Whether you're a fan of mouth-watering cheeses and meats or conscious about the health and ethical implications of your food choices, fat plays a central role in many of our favorite foods.
In this post, you'll discover why fat is a critical component in the future of alternative proteins and who is making it a reality.
Ubiquitous in many of our favorite foods, divisive in recent health trends, and crave-inducing — fat is familiar to us all.
Maybe you’ve drooled over Samin Nosrats descriptions of parmesan wheels and sizzling meats in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Or perhaps you’ve felt outraged after reading Michael Moss' Salt, Sugar, Fat, learning how food giants have saliciously courted your taste buds for decades. Or maybe you care about the environmental and moral implications, but sometimes you just really, really crave cheese.
Wherever you are in your droolings, outrages, and cravings — an underlying theme persists: fat is universally coveted, and is lurking in many of our favourite foods. So it's no surprise that fat has become a hot topic in alternative protein research.
Any topic can be controversial if you research long enough, and fat is no exception. It is widely recognized that there are five primary tasting profiles: sweet, salty, sour, savory, and bitter.
However, fat has been a silent competitor for millennia. Aristotle lauded fat as a taste as early as 330 BC. In the 16th century, a scholar advocated including a fat-like taste, pinguis (Latin for fatty), in the taste family. Discussions of this type have continued into modern times. A recent article suggests a taste-receptor actually exists, which may officially classify "fat" as the 6th basic taste (a conclusion thousands of years in the making).
Whether fat is officially admitted into the taste club or not, the alternative protein industry is well aware that innovating new and better animal-free fats is essential to the industry's future.
While many factors contribute to food choices (cultural preferences, nutrition, cost), taste is a primary factor. The alt-protein industry is no exception. Fat contributes to the texture and palatability of conventional meat, making it a fundamental ingredient in meat substitutes. Simply put, consumers often buy products based on taste, and fat plays a significant role in taste preferences (just ask Aristotle).
Plant-based fats, such as oil, have historically created convincingly fatty textures in meat replacements. But oils present some limitations. For example, coconut oil (ubiquitous in the alt-protein industry) has a low melting point. Coconut oil in a plant-based burger may melt away, reducing its ability to replicate the juiciness of a conventional hamburger.
Coconut oil presents some additional challenges. Projections estimate that the alt-protein industry may consume at up to 16% of the global supply of coconut oil by 2030. As the coconut industry is subject to market volatility, the supply chain may face instability. Coconut oil production has also been traced to unsustainable environmental practices.
Despite innovations in alternative fats, plant-oil ingredients won't disappear from the alternative protein scene. Plant fats, like coconut oil, have been and will continue to be important in producing alternative proteins. Both the widely popular Beyond Meat and Impossible brands contain plant-based fats.
However, securing the future success of alternative proteins requires diversifying fat ingredients to accommodate more consumer tastebuds and reducing reliance on a single supply chain.
Recent innovations present an opportunity to diversify the future of fat inputs in alternative proteins, including cell cultivation, Omega-3 fatty acids, and fermentation.
Some companies use cell cultivation (growing animal cells in bioreactors) to produce real animal fat. The final product can improve the taste and texture of plant-based meat products. Fish, which get a lot of the credit for being high in Omega-3s (an essential fatty acid), actually accumulate their Omega-3s from nature's protein superpowers — algae.
Some alternative protein companies, such as Revo Foods, use algae fats and oils to elevate the nutritional value of plant-based seafood and other products. Check out our blog on 3D printing for more information on Revo Foods and their work in the plant-based seafood industry. Finally, by employing the ancient art of fermentation (which has faithfully provided us with alcohol for thousands of centuries), some companies tailor the DNA of yeasts to produce fats that mimic conventional animal fats.
Below are some companies applying technology to the production of fat in the alternative protein landscape.
Lypid's vegan fat ingredient, PhytoFat™ mimics animal fats in texture and flavour. The recipe is proprietary, but the product is over 90% vegan oils and water.
The product circumvents challenges associated with conventional fat by containing zero trans fats and no hydrogenation. Lypid positions itself as a healthier alternative to palm oil and coconut oil plant-based fats.
We had an opportunity to connect with Karen Chiu, Senior Business Developer at Lypid, who shared with us that Lypid's PhytoFat™:
Other meat alternatives lack high melting point vegan fats that maintain the texture and flavor of conventional meat.
Recently, Lypid developed the world's first plant-based pork belly, which has two unique ingredients — PhytoFat™, its patent-pending fat ingredient, and a fibrous plant protein; together, these mimic the microstructure of animal muscles.
In 2022, Lypid announced a partnership with Tiawan's Louisa Coffee. A range of PhytoFat™ meat-alternative products are currently available from the coffee shop chain, including the plant-based burger pictured below:
Cultimate produces real animal fat using cultivated animal cells. Their goal is to elevate the flavour profiles of plant-based proteins by introducing cultivated fats — making a hybrid plant-based protein product enhanced with cell-cultivated fat.
Co-Founder and CEO of Cultimate Foods, George Zheleznyi, explained why Cultimate focuses on fat production: "fat is the most value-added part of the meat that brings juiciness, mouthfeel, taste, and texture. To produce our fat, we use modern cellular agriculture (a.k.a. cultured/cultivated meat) technologies, which do not need animals to suffer."
Cultimate wants to deliver authentic meat flavor (not simply oil substitutes in plant-based meats), so they're engineering intramuscular fat (which is responsible for meat's marbling and flavor properties).
The company aims to enter the market in 2025.
Nourish Ingredients has developed proprietary fermentation strains to manufacture fat molecules that mimic the animal fats in craveworthy foods — while leaving animals out of the process. The fat alternative products produced by Nourish Ingredients do not utilise coconut or palm oils.
During the production process, flavor and texture can be customized, ensuring that the fat product matches any animal protein analog required, such as seafood, pork, beef, and chicken.
Cellva is the first Brazilian-based B2B company focused on producing animal products utilising cell-cultivation techniques — and no harm to animals.
Cellva makes pork fat, an ingredient easily added to cultivated meat and plant-based protein products. The goal is to produce the highest quality fat from animals unexposed to antibiotics.
Connectomix Bio has recently made headlines for its research into turning food byproducts into fats. As part of the company's plan, byproducts of agriculture, such as corn husks, or household, restaurant, or industry wastes will be transformed into fats for plant-based and cultivated protein production in microbial fermentation.
Cultivated Biosciences focuses on producing the creamiest vegan dairy products by leveraging the potential of fermentation. Cultivated Biosciences uses GMO-free oleaginous (oily) yeast in their fermentation process. The final product? An animal-free fat identical to one found in traditional dairy. This fat readily applies to a range of dairy products, including cheese, ice cream, and milk.
In a market rife with innovations in ingredient optimization, the future of alternative protein sounds more and more delicious every day.
Do you know of any companies producing alternative fats? We'd love to hear from you.