Chicago Ingredients Startup Debuts Algae Heme To Help Upgrade Plant-Based Meats

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Chicago-based ingredients startup Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) has debuted its new algae-based heme – the molecule that plant-based player Impossible Foods has made famous with its “bleeding” beef patties that are completely animal-free. Showcasing its beta-version to Josh Schonwald who reviewed the ingredient for The Spoon, BYAS says that it wants to make its heme available to plant-based meat makers to upgrade their products in terms of taste, bite and experience. 

You might have heard of heme, the famous ingredient that Impossible Foods credits to make its plant-based meats taste, look, cook and even bleed like the real thing and surely why consumers have continued to flock to buy their patties in record numbers over the last year. But now, Chicago-based startup BYAS wants to make heme available to more plant-based producers and brands, which will help elevate existing and future alternatives on the market and get more mainstream consumers on board. 

While still in beta-mode, the heme developed by BYAS has been tested by Josh Schonwald for The Spoon, who described it as a “game-changer” for the future of plant-based meats. The heme itself is made from the spirulina – one of the superfood algaes that have caught the attention of food manufacturing giants and startups alike in recent years for its nutrient-rich profile and multi-industry potential

Source: Impossible Foods

Whatever it was, the heme-sprayed burgers were a clear upgrade.

Josh Schonwald

In the taste test, BYAS sprayed low concentrations of their heme onto two popular plant-based burgers already widely available on the market, one made by Beyond Meat and the other from Morningstar. 

“On a quick inspection, the heme-sprayed versions didn’t look significantly different, or smell different, but after a few bites, I had a clear favourite. It’s hard to pinpoint the source of my preference. Maybe the heme-flavor overshadowed the nutty aftertaste of Beyond? Perhaps it was an increase in umami? Whatever it was, the heme-sprayed burgers were a clear upgrade,” wrote Schonwald. 

“While none of us thought the heme elevated Beyond to match the flavour of a real burger, we all agreed: Algal heme makes a big difference.” 

Source: BYAS

We’re an ingredient company, and want to give plant-based meat makers an option for a heme.

Leonard Lerer, Founder & CEO, BYAS

BYAS makes its heme using a natural extraction process that doesn’t require fermentation or genetic engineering, making it completely GMO-free, unlike Impossible’s soy-based version that does contain GMOs.  And because its base is spirulina, the ingredient itself also boosts the nutrient profile of products when incorporated, in addition to bringing about a much more “real” sensory and taste experience of meat.

Leonard Lerer, founder and CEO of BYAS, wants to make this very ingredient available to alternative protein producers. 

“There’s a lot of ways to give mock meats a meaty flavour, but there’s nothing quite like heme. Impossible is a food company — and as far as I know, they don’t sell their heme. We’re an ingredient company, and want to give plant-based meat makers an option for a heme,” he told The Spoon

Lead image courtesy of BYAS.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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