Creating plant-based, protein-rich food that looks and feels more like meat

A team of University of Massachusetts Amherst food scientists has been awarded a grant from the Good Food Institute to create tasty, plant-based, protein-rich food that's similar in texture to whole chicken, pork or beef.

Distinguished Professor of Food Science David Julian McClements, well-known for his cutting-edge work in food design and nanotechnology, leads the multidisciplinary team that specializes in taste physiology and sensory science, gut health, food processing and plant-based meat product development. The other food scientists are Amanda Kinchla, extension associate professor; Jiakai Lu, assistant professor; Alissa Nolden, assistant professor; David Sela, associate professor; and Hang Xiao, professor and Clydesdale Scholar.

Under its competitive research grant program, the Good Food Institute recently announced 2020 grants totaling $4 million awarded to support 21 open-access research projects, based in nine countries. These projects aim to improve the sensory qualities, cost and profitability of alternative proteins. The UMass Amherst team will receive $200,000 over two years.

Our 2020 grantees are leading biochemists, tissue engineers, computational modeling experts, plant geneticists and food scientists."

Austin Clowes, Good Food Institute's scientific research funding coordinator

McClements points to a growing desire among consumers to reduce the amount of animal-based foods they eat for environmental, ethical and health reasons. "This grant will allow us to explore the use of applied nanotechnology and structural design to create molecular architectures from plant proteins that resemble those in meat," he explains. "In particular, we aim to simulate the properties of whole chicken, pork or beef - rather than burgers, sausages or nuggets that exist already."

The not-for-profit Good Food Institute promotes plant-based alternatives to meat, dairy and eggs, as well as cultivated "clean meat" grown from animal cells in a facility.

McClements and his team hope to develop an innovative approach to creating fiber-like structures from plant proteins that improve the texture of plant-based meat. "This would advance our technological ability to create meat-like fibers without the process of extrusion," says McClements, author of "Future Foods: How Modern Science Is Transforming the Way We Eat" (Springer Nature, 2019).

The institute's Clowes concludes, "We are thrilled to catalyze high-quality research that will produce open-access data to enable the entire sector to advance more efficiently and bring plant-based and cultivated meat to the masses. These projects will fill key research white spaces and help build the scientific foundation of a healthy, sustainable and just food system."

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