Science

Lund University Researchers Uncover Optimal Raw Material Blend for the Most Appealing Plant-Based Meat

Food technology researchers at Lund University in Sweden have found the best raw material combination to make the most appetizing plant-based meat using extrusion: wheat gluten and hemp seed.

The research, led by Karolina Östbring and Jeanette Purhagen, focuses on creating alternatives that mimic the texture and consistency of real meat, addressing the common complaint that vegan food does not deliver the “meaty” experience.

“What we’ve made in our lab is much better than what can be found in stores today”

 

Focusing on texture, temperature, and taste — the three “Ts” — the team discovered a way to introduce chewiness into vegetable meat by imitating muscle fibers, using an extruder and various raw materials. 

According to Purhagen, extruders are essential for producing meat analogs with suitable, long fibers, providing the desired chewy texture that people appreciate in meat. 

Rice pea protein powder
© baibaz – stock.adobe.com

Finding the optimal combination 

However, finding the optimal combination of plant proteins is as essential as finding the proper settings for the extruder (which has multiple parameters and levels). They have worked intensively with the equipment for five years, which, according to Östbring, is “incredibly complicated.”

By experimenting with different combinations of plant proteins, including rapeseed, hempseed, yellow peas, chickpeas, broad beans, oats, and wheat gluten (many coming as waste from agriculture or the food industry), they found that a combination of hempseed and gluten was the best. The hemp came from press cakes from hempseed oil production, which contains high-quality protein.

This combination was selected as a favorite by a tasting panel for its rounded taste and a “good” chewy texture. Meanwhile, the next-best-rated combination was hempseed and residues from oat milk production, the researchers explain.

“Hempseed behaves in a really tremendous way. It has fantastic texturing properties and tastes good. The plant can be grown in Sweden and what is left over can be used for textiles and building material,” says Östbring. 

Brightseed Hemp Seed Hulls
©Brightseed

A parallel discovery

In addition, the team made a discovery that saves about 75 percent of energy during the production process, enabling even more climate-friendly products.

Instead of feeding the extruder with dry powder, they introduce a high-moisture protein material through an input meant for clean water. This innovative method eliminates the energy-intensive powder stage and reduces the extruder’s energy consumption.

“It was not possible to patent the discovery, as the whole patent system is based on adding a step, rather than removing and simplifying. So, we have now published the discovery instead,” says Purhagen.

“…one raw material cannot do the whole job”

Overall, the research conducted at Lund University has the potential to revolutionize the plant-based meat industry, providing consumers with more appetizing and satisfying options. While the researchers are not commercializing the product, they say several companies are interested in bringing these vegan meat analogs to the market. 

“The research field has begun to realise that one raw material cannot do the whole job, rather you need to combine two or more raw materials to attain a really good mouthfeel. Often you need a raw material that adds protein and one that contributes fibre, so that the product won’t be too rubbery,” says Östbring.

“What we’ve made in our lab is much better than what can be found in stores today,” she adds.

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