Meat- and Fish Alternatives

UK Researchers Unveil Microgel Breakthrough That Makes Plant-Based Meat Juicy and Appealing 

Professor Anwesha Sarkar from the University of Leeds and her scientific team have discovered a simple solution to make plant-based meat more palatable: microgels.

According to these scientists, one of the “key bottlenecks for consumer acceptability” has been the dry texture and lack of moisture of plant-based meat.

“This study reveals the ingenuity and depth of science involved in modern food technology”  

But using a process called microgeletion, they can create individual microgels of water and lubricants in dry plant protein used for foods. These capsules, under pressure (biting), explode, thus changing the dry texture of plant-based meat.

“What we have done is converted the dry plant protein into a hydrated one, using the plant protein to form a spider-like web that holds the water around the plant protein,” explains Professor Sarkar.

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Only water and heat

Sarkar explains that microgeletion involves only water and heat, not chemicals or agents. The transformation happens because proteins under heat change shape at the molecular level and trap water around themselves, forming a gel. Afterward, this gel is homogenized to create an interconnected network of individual microgels dispersed throughout the dough or plant-protein material. 

More astonishingly, using only water and heat, these microgels provide the lubricity of a 20% fat emulsion without any added fats. Ben Kew, the lead researcher in the project, said, “It is striking that without adding a drop of fat, the microgels resemble the lubricity of a 20% fat emulsion, which we are the first to report.”

Besides making plant-based meat juicy and moist, the scientific team argues that this product will revolutionize the food industry with the next generation of healthy and sustainable foods.

Moreover, the research team believes their discovery of protein microgels will generate renewed consumer interest in plant-based proteins, a necessary change to meet global climate change targets.

Dr. Mel Holmes, Associate Professor in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds and one of the authors of the paper, said, “This study reveals the ingenuity and depth of science involved in modern food technology, from the chemistry of proteins, the way food is sensed in the mouth to an understanding of tribology—the friction between materials and sensory cells in the mouth.”

Their results have been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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