Texture of meat alternatives vastly improved by platform creating alternative active proteins

September 20, 2022 - 4 minutes
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An Israeli start-up is using technology to clean up labels in products mimicking meat using veggie protein.

Meala FoodTech Ltd using a platform to create functionally active proteins designed to replace 1:1 methylcellulose and other hydrocolloids and gums widely used in meat replacements as binding and gelling agents.

Meala FoodTech says its multifunctional proteins vastly improve the texture of meat alternatives to more compellingly copy the organoleptic qualities of real meat.

The plant-based category is still big business but the alternative protein food producers are still struggling to get the mouthfeel of their products close to their animal-based counterparts – the same issue applies to clean labelling.

Currently, popular meat alternatives such as veggie burgers and sausages typically contain a long list of ingredients, some with complex chemical names unfamiliar to consumers. This renders them as ultra-processed products and they risk rejection. One of the more common of these is methylcellulose.

Methylcellulose or food additive E461 is a water-soluble polymer that has been chemically modified from natural cellulose. It appears in a broad scope of meat, dairy, and egg analogs as a thickener, emulsifier, binder, stabilizer, and gelling agent. It gels when exposed to heat, giving a more meat-like sensation but returns to its viscous state when cooled. As plant-based proteins have low water retention capacity and can’t bind, hydrocolloid like methylcellulose are essential.

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Meala FoodTech says that most meat alternatives on the market contain veggie protein which is usually soy combined with water, methylcellulose, additional stabilizers, flavors, colors, and fat and at large fail to meet the clean-label standards today’s consumers’ demand. But more than that, they still don’t quite hit the desired meat–like sensation.

Hadar Razmovich, founder and CEO of Meala FoodTech says: “If you break down the ingredients list of a real meat burger, its composition will be meat, fat, some carbohydrates, spices, salt and pepper.

Meala FoodTech’s vision: plant-based alternatives

“Our vision is for plant-based alternatives to sport a similar short list of simple, recognizable ‘home kitchen’ ingredients while delivering the same full-bodied flavor and texture of real meat.”

Meala’s solution is produced using naturally occurring biocatalysts, enabling it to function as an exceptional methylcellulose replacer. Its platform works with a versatile range of plant proteins, creating from them a stable hydro-gel when heated, but without changing its behavior when cooled. The company’s platform can be easily integrated into CPG products through existing manufacturing lines.

Liran Gruda, CIO, chef, and co-founder of Meala FoodTech said: “In lab trials, our product demonstrated superior water retention capabilities and gelation properties.

“It exhibits a more fat-like quality when infused into meat analogs, tendering a juicier and more succulent bite. Meala is an all-encompassing solution that can replace not only methylcellulose but a whole system of stabilizers that are commonly used. It significantly improves texture in meat analogs, with no aftertaste yet with a nicely ‘polished’ label.”

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First target: alternative meat

Meala’s products will appear on an ingredient panel simply as a protein, such as pea or soy, and makes up roughly 4% of the end product. The company reveals that its protein has already passed proof-of-concept trials in plant-based burgers, kebabs, dumplings and similar meat analogs manufactured for alternative meat producers and foodservice. Meala FoodTech will focus on this sector before expanding to dairy, fish, and egg alternative products.

Amir Zaidman, Chief Business Officer of The Kitchen FoodTech Hub said: “Some of the leading plant-based meat brands sparked a true revolution with products that much more closely imitate ‘meaty’ textures and flavors.

“Unfortunately, it is challenging to replace additives consumers do not want in their foods. We are extremely excited about Meala’s breakthrough B2B platform and the possibilities it opens for plant-based brands. We believe this can be a giant step in making plant-based foods the standard.”

Meala FoodTech was founded in 2020 by product innovation specialist Hadar Ekhoiz Razmovich; Tali Feldman Sivan, serial entrepreneur and business strategist; and Liran Gruda, an expert in culinary arts and molecular cuisine.

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