How to measure and analyse the texture of food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and adhesives.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Substituting your Meat at mealtimes: Part 1: Introduction

Vegetable burgerA health or environmental choice?

Across the country, people are choosing to eat less meat for the health of their bodies and the planet, whether for one meatless day per week or a lifetime. 

The ‘fake meat’ business has been around for decades, but it has not quite taken off due to price or down to visual, textural or flavour failure. However, the meat-fakers say they are on the verge of a breakthrough, that there is a real possibility that a new era of fake meat – nutritious, cheap and indistinguishable from the real thing, made either of synthesised animal tissue or derived from plant material – may be upon us.

Eating meat is bad for the environment, of that there is no doubt. And the moral arguments against killing animals are compelling. Humans currently slaughter about 1,600 mammals and birds every second for food – that is half a trillion lives a year, plus trillions more fish, crustaceans and molluscs. The total biomass of all of the world's livestock is almost exactly twice that of humanity itself. And while crops that feed people cover just 4% of the Earth's usable surface (land that is not covered by ice or water, or is bare rock), animal pastureland accounts for a full 30%. Our meat, in other words, weighs twice as much as we do and takes seven times as much land to grow.

We are also going to have to feed a lot more people in the coming decades. The world's population stands at a little over 7bn; by 2060 this will have risen to perhaps 9.5bn, and that is a fairly optimistic scenario. Not only are there more and more of us, but we are eating more and more meat. Demand for it is expected to double by 2050. The market in chicken, pig, cattle and sheep flesh is worth about $1tn a year. By mid-century this will more than double, perhaps triple at today's prices, as the cost of land rises.

This is bad news for the Earth. Meat production accounts for about 5% of global CO2 emissions, 40% of methane emissions and 40% of various nitrogen oxides. If meat production doubles, by the late 2040s cows, pigs, sheep and chickens will be responsible for about half as much climate change impact as all the world's cars, trucks and aircraft.

But it is animal suffering that usually turns people vegetarian. Meat farming is, say its critics, an obsolete technology that produces a nutrient-dense food in just about the most inefficient (and cruel) way imaginable. The problem – the big problem – is that, when given a choice, most of us like to eat meat regardless. It may be inefficient, dirty and cruel, but there is no denying that cooked animal flesh tastes good.

What are the meat substitution options?

Today, veggie burgers, as they’re commonly known in the US, are growing in popularity as Americans look for ways to eat healthier. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects meat and poultry consumption to fall again this year, to 12.2% less in 2012 than it was in 2007.

On the flip side, veggie burger listings on menus are up 17% since 2008, according to the National Restaurant Association. The trend is being fuelled by the shift of more Americans to a more plant-based diet. According to a study commissioned in 2011 by the Vegetarian Resource Group, about 8 million adults in the United States eat diets without meat, fish or poultry.

Choice of diet
Add to that number a growing number of health conscious and mostly younger consumers who now consider themselves “flexitarians,” meaning they have not given up meat entirely but look for opportunities to eat well without it. Today, about 4% of Americans aged 18 to 29 choose to eat a meatless meal at least once a week, according to Innova Insights. There’s no doubt a growing segment of diners are looking for healthier foods and ‘better-for-you’ ingredients and for some, that means reducing or eliminating meat from their diet.

There are several alternatives to meat that attempt to replace the whole meat slab or minced version. There are now widely available alternatives to just about every type of meat, including chicken-, pork-, fish-, and beef-style products. Plant-based meat substitutes such as Quorn have come a long way in both taste and texture since the days of the first veggie burger, thanks to the growing popularity of vegetarian diets. 

Faux meats are also often made from soy or wheat protein and are available fresh, dried, or frozen. Tofu, first used in China around 200 B.C., has long been a staple of Asian cuisine. It soaks up flavours and is best when marinated for at least 30 minutes or served with a flavourful sauce. When baking, grilling and sautéing, water-packed tofu is used to hold its shape. 

Tempeh, on the other hand, is a traditional Indonesian food made from fermented soybeans and other grains. Unlike tofu, which is made from soybean milk, tempeh contains whole soybeans, making it denser. Seitan, also known as wheat gluten, is derived from wheat and is a great source of protein which is a good chicken substitute in recipes.

Attempting to recreate ‘meat’ texture?

Meat texture is supremely important. The taste and colour can be faked quite easily, but the texture cannot. That is because flesh is hard to fake. Meat, essentially muscle tissue, is made up of bundles of long, thin fibres wrapped in tough connective tissue, like shrink-wrapped logs. Scattered through the fibre packets are tiny pockets of fat. A slab of sirloin is a chunk of incredibly complex machinery, and it is this complexity that is giving the fakers a headache.

One approach is to manipulate plant material to create a meat-facsimile; this is what Ethan Brown is doing. The extruder in the ‘Beyond Meat’ lab makes meat. Not meat-like substances, Brown will tell you. “Meat from plants. Because what is meat but a tasty, toothy hunk of protein? Do we really need animals to assemble it for us?”. 

Beyond Meat used the TA.XTplus Texture Analyser in their 2014 patent application ‘Plant based meat structured protein products’ to assess the physical properties of their formulated invention’ for the assessment of texture.

Cutting meat
Plant proteins, unlike meat, are not aligned or bundled. They’re more like random piles of sticks. They have none of the tensile strength or moisture-retention properties of muscle, which is why earlier generations of veggie burgers fell apart and lacked the release of rich, juicy fats. 

The only exception is gluten, the protein found in wheat, which has some amazing qualities. It forms a spring-like structure that can expand and contract, making dough stretchy and retaining moisture in its matrix of interlinked proteins. But those long proteins also like to curl in on themselves like a nest of snakes, which prevents digestive enzymes from getting at them. 

However, when that partially digested gluten makes it into the gut of someone with celiac disease, the immune system mistakes the intact proteins for evil microbes, freaks out, and strafes the intestine with friendly fire. Even those who don’t have an adverse response to wheat often find the concentrated gluten in veggie burgers to be digestively challenging.

Pea protein is the new darling of the no-soy health-food set, but it has a powdery mouthfeel and no structural integrity, so it has never starred in its own production. “Without fibres you can have something that’s hard and dry or mushy and wet,” says Tim Geistlinger from Beyond Meat. “They’re fairly mutually exclusive.” Early last year, Beyond Meat released a pea-based product, Beyond Beef Crumble, that approximated the look and feel of cooked ground beef and made a decent taco filling, but it wouldn’t hold together and had no chew. Geistlinger decided he had to create fibres from the material — that is, do something to make them line up and link together to mimic muscle.

The other approach is to grow actual meat in a factory, animal muscle tissue sans the animal itself, and this is being pioneered in Europe.

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We can design and manufacture probes or fixtures for the TA.XTplus texture analyser that are bespoke to your sample and its specific measurement.

Once your measurement is performed, our expertise in its graphical interpretation is unparalleled. Not only can we develop the most suitable and accurate method for the testing of your sample, but we can also prepare analysis procedures that obtain the desired parameters from your curve and drop them into a spreadsheet or report designed around your requirements.

For more information on how to measure texture, please visit the Texture Analysis Properties section on our website.

TA.XTplus texture analyser with bloom jar The
TA.XTplus texture analyser is part of a family of texture analysis instruments and equipment from Stable Micro Systems. An extensive portfolio of specialist attachments is available to measure and analyse the textural properties of a huge range of food products. Our technical experts can also custom design instrument fixtures according to individual specifications.

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