A Look at the Evolving World of Alternative Proteins
Protein remains a hot topic in the food industry, and alternative proteins are of particular interest to many. “The world population is growing. We all need protein. We all want protein,” said Rene Floris, division manager, flavor and texture at food research organization NIZO. Floris and three other presenters zeroed in on several high-profile alternative proteins in a session on Sunday, July 17, titled “Sustainability of Alternative Protein Sources: From Micromycelium to Insects to Urban Farming.”
Presenter Nicolas Meneses of the Buhler Group pointed out that today’s animal-based protein system is not sustainable. To meet food needs, it’s necessary to increase protein production by 50%, he said. Alternative protein sources will be required.
The presenters, who also included Alexander Mathys, an assistant professor of sustainable food processing at ETH, and Uma Valeti, CEO of cultured meat pioneer Memphis Meats, identified a variety of alternative proteins poised to play a significant role in the marketplace—now or in the future. The list includes pulses, insects, and algae, among others.
People all over the globe have loved meat for 12,000 years since animals were first domesticated for meat production, said Valeti, a cardiologist who cofounded Memphis Meats.
“There are three main problems with this love for meat,” said Valeti. These problems include an inadequate supply; health risks ranging from E. coli to antibiotic resistance; and the economic inefficiency of producing meat. It takes about 15,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of meat, said Valeti, who also observed that the meat industry contributes about 18–20% of all greenhouse gases.
“Cheap meat is made possible only by polluting the environment,” he reflected.
But, he continued, he believes that the greatest opportunities for innovation come from challenges like the preceding. To that end, Valeti’s company is committed to creating an economically viable meat option to reduce reliance on conventionally raised farm animals. Memphis meat is culturing meat cells to yield a product that won’t take a toll on the environment and will be free of pathogens. The company’s R&D team is currently focused on reducing the cost of producing cultured meat. Valeti said he expects to commercialize cultured meat in about five years.
Floris noted that many proteins once viewed merely as food industry by-products are now high-value ingredients. He cited the examples of whey protein and soy protein.
The presenters agreed that insect protein has potential but faces regulatory and consumer acceptance barriers in Western markets. Other up-and-coming alternative proteins include pulses, faba beans, quinoa, duckweed, and algae. Floris noted that the latter two require minimal land mass for production.