SXSW Sydney 2023 Showcases Colour-Changing Plant-Based Meat & Ultra Realistic Molecular Fat
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At this week’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Sydney tech conference, Australian plant-based meat companies v2food and Nourish Ingredients debuted new ingredients that change the colour of vegan meat alternatives and give them a more realistic texture, respectively. Can these appeal to consumers more concerned with flavour and health?
As the plant-based meat sector endeavours to overcome a difficult period, the key is to lean into what consumers want from their food. Surveys in different countries have shown that taste and health are more important than ever before when it comes to meat alternatives, with price and texture also playing a significant role.
One company is adding another component to that list of priorities: appearance. At SXSW, Aussie brand v2food unveiled its new colour system for plant-based meat, banking on visuals to rope in consumer interest.
v2food’s new bleeding burger ingredient
The brand, which makes meat alternatives including burgers, mince, sausages and schnitzels, is calling the ingredient RepliHue. It argues that most plant proteins remain the same colour before and after cooking, but its tech enables vegan meat to change colour from raw-looking to brown-grey at the same time and temperature as its conventional counterparts do.
The effect creates ‘bleeding’ alt-proteins – the storied effect achieved by Impossible Foods thanks to an ingredient called heme, which makes its burgers bleed and taste more akin to animal-derived meat. But unlike heme, which is a soy-derived genetically modified element, RepliHue is derived naturally from red algae and other plants.
v2food claims red algae can be produced sustainably as it has the ability to consume carbon dioxide and uses light for energy. The company calls the ingredient a breakthrough that will create an “authentic and more normalised experience for chefs and consumers cooking with plant-based meats”.
CEO Tim York said: “Our red algae is a breakthrough, natural solution that has been developed to create this highly desirable attribute that will play a major role in fighting climate change.”
What do consumers really want?
But while v2food is creating a more ‘realistic’ cooking experience with the colour-changing ingredient, it says RepliHue “incorporates multiple advances” in taste and texture too. And it’s those latter two factors that have been cited as a consumer priority in multiple studies.
Take YouGov Australia’s 1,039-person poll, published last week, which found that across the diet spectrum – meat-eaters, flexitarians, vegans/vegetarians and pescetarians – taste was the number-one factor influencing them to consume foods. This was followed by price for three of the groups, with health effects coming in second for flexitarians.
Similarly, an 11-country European survey by ProVeg in 2020 found that taste and health are the most significant purchase drivers for the 7,500 flexitarians polled when it comes to choosing plant-based products. In the US, the Plant Based Foods Association and insights firm 84.51° collated Kroger data from 60 million American households earlier this year, revealing that health benefits, animal welfare aspects, and taste were the things American shoppers like most about plant-based food, while texture, price and processing are the biggest detractors. Appearance didn't play a role in either study.
It did, however, appear in global research by vegan certification organisation V-Label, which revealed that while taste is important for 82% of consumers buying plant-based analogues, texture and appearance were key for 75% of consumers.
Could fat be the key to consumer adoption?
This is what v2food may be cashing in on. It's certainly what Nourish Ingredients is hoping to do with Tastilux, as the team shared on the SXSW stage. It's described as a breakthrough fat to help plant proteins deliver the same taste, smell and experience as animal-based meats.
Tastilux is the result of three years of work and relies on naturally occurring lipids scaled through precision fermentation. The proprietary fat is said to provide the distinct taste and aroma of conventional meat fats and enable similar cooking reactions when used in plant-based chicken, beef, pork and other alternatives.
The company showcased the fat's features in a vegan chicken wing with edible bones made from calcium. “Tastilux represents a quantum leap in making plant-based meats live up to the rich, fatty taste and cooking performance consumers want and love,” said Nourish Ingredients founder and CEO James Petrie. "We saw an opportunity to revolutionise plant proteins by focusing on the power of fat. Most alternative fats simply can’t replicate the rich, authentic flavour of cooked meat."
He explained: "So rather than take a plant-based approach, we analysed the most flavourful animal fats in their uncooked state. Then identified where we could find these in nature, without the animal. By fermenting only the most potent fats, we’re able to recreate the authentic meat experience."
Given that its fat is produced via precision fermentation, it will need to obtain regulatory approval, with Australian legislation classing these as 'novel foods'. "We are actively engaged in the regulatory processes essential for our products. It’s important to note that not all of the solutions we are developing require extensive regulation, allowing us to expedite certain aspects of our work," Petrie told Green Queen.
"We are currently navigating the regulatory landscape, drawing upon our extensive experience in omega-3 oils. This background equips us with the knowledge and tools to effectively navigate the regulatory pathways."
v2food & Nourish Ingredients target 2024 launch
v2food aims to begin retail distribution for RepliHue – which can be used in beef, pork and chicken analogues – by 2024. "We are thrilled to be unveiling the latest game-changing technology in the plant-based protein market," said York. "RepliHue is the next generation of meat alternatives, that incorporates multiple advancements in texture, flavour and colour, making it only right to be revealing the breakthrough at the world-renowned SXSW conference."
Nourish Ingredients is looking to introduce Tastilux by 2024 aswell, and has already set up multiple collaborations. "We have established collaborations with several prominent plant-based protein companies, and we eagerly anticipate unveiling these exciting partnerships in the near future," said Petrie.
"We hold ambitious global aspirations, and our actions reflect this vision. We have a pilot facility in Singapore, and we’ve established numerous strategic partnerships in both the UK and the US," he added. "The challenge we are tackling is one that transcends borders, making it imperative for us to adopt a truly global perspective.
The news comes months after a 3,016-person study by Queensland’s Griffith University found that nearly a third (32.2%) of Australians have reduced their meat consumption over the last year. Crucially, 71.3% said they either eat completely meatless diets, mostly vegan or have some plant-based dishes in an overall omnivorous diet – and 45.6% reported eating plant-based meat sometimes.
So the opportunity is there to appeal to flexitarians – who make up 19% of Australia's population, according to the YouGov survey – and it's exactly what ingredients like v2food's RepliHue and Nourish Ingredient's Tastilux are aiming to do.