The start up seed breeding specialist, Equinom Ltd. claims technology will help food manufacturers close the gap between consumer demand for ‘cleaner’ meat alternatives and ‘palate-pleasing’, affordable products.

According to Innova Market Insights’ 2018 consumer survey, 49% of US consumers are driven by health when buying meat and dairy alternatives. It reports that plant-based food demand is climbing, with consumers concerned about animal welfare and minimizing their carbon footprint.

“Natural products not only need to exclude additives and preservatives; they also must have short, simple ingredient lists,” says Itay Dana, marketing director for Equinom. “Unfortunately, despite the buzz, plant-based meat products don’t necessarily support clean-labeling.” Most natural ingredients still require extensive processing to allure the health- and ethic-minded customers. This over-processing strips the products of taste and functionality. To achieve palate appeal as well as nutritional and sales objectives, manufacturers tack on masks, flavour enhancers, fillers and highly processed ingredients, such as protein isolates.

“In contrast, Equinom’s seeds for plant ingredients make processing nearly irrelevant because Equinom’s whole beans deliver on taste and nutritional goals that are closer to producers’ needs,” says Dana. “Equinom’s breeding technology grows better-for-you ingredients that do away with over-processing, simplify ingredient lists and eliminate the need for additives, so producers can go ‘from plant to product’ in fewer steps.”

Holy Grail: taste and texture

The triad of texture, taste and nutrition is hard to find in a single isolated ingredient.

“Equinom breeds specifically for organoleptic properties, custom-designing plant varieties that have revived great taste, appealing texture and improved nutrition,” explains Sigal Meirovitch, PhD, Head of Protein Development for Equinom. “The company has restored these high-demand qualities naturally in the crops, demonstrating that one plant can have it all.”

By using the whole plant and designating key components to meet food company product development needs, Equinom says it can maximise component contribution using minimum separation, which also reduces the need to mask unpleasant tastes. Equinom uses electronic sensing systems such as e-tongue and e-nose for high-throughput analysis of off flavours, which helps accelerate breeding.

Price-performance that works

Most consumers make food-buying choices with their wallets. To continue ramping up adoption, meat-free alternatives need to be affordable. Until now, manufacturing nutritious, minimally processed products has been expensive because locating ingredients that hit the sweet spot between optimizing clean nutrition and profitability has evaded manufacturers.

“Since Equinom’s legumes are bred for both high protein and simple protein extraction, ingredient producers can achieve their yield performance goals easier, and food manufacturing costs less,” says Meirovitch. “This is empowering the market to offer more competitively priced products and achieve financially viable market penetration.”

Turning over a new leaf in plant-based meat

The alternative meat market is seeing high-profile products coming to market. However, health-food movers and shakers have pointed out, raw ingredients have not yet lived up to the vision of helping make clean-label products truly nutritious.

“Equinom is upending the plant-based meat industry – uprooting previously entrenched limitations and delivering seeds for source ingredients that are setting the functional, financial and eco-friendly standards in the market,” Dana concluded.