Date posted: 19/05/2020 5 min read

5 things you didn’t know about fake meat

It’s true – the future of food could lie in delicious fakery. Here’s what you need to know about plant-based ‘meat’

In Brief

  • The first lab-grown meat burger was made by Dutch biotechnologist Mark Post in 2013.
  • Analysts predict compound annual growth rates of 6% or more for the plant-based meat industry.
  • Tofu remains the biggest meat substitute product on the global market.

By Seamus Byrne

Love a burger but concerned about the environmental impact of farming animals for food? Over the past decade, work has been underway to find innovative ways to supply humans with the taste, texture and goodness of meat, minus the environmental cost.

1. Lab-grown meat is expensive, but prices are falling

The big race to grow real meat without killing animals began early in the 2010s with the first lab-grown beef (aka cultured meat) burger made by Dutch biotechnologist Mark Post in 2013. That burger was funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin and cost US$330,000 (more than A$400,000) to make. Mosa Meat, the company founded by Post, received a recent cash injection of US$8.8 million and is working towards a more affordable burger price by 2021: one that will cost the consumer less than US$15.

2. The secret sauce is one special molecule

While lab-grown meat is evolving, its biggest competition in the vegetarian and vegan market comes thanks to a combination of great marketing and molecular science. Companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have garnered attention with their pitches to make plant-based alternatives indistinguishable from beef or pork. And they’re distributing their products into tens of thousands of restaurants around the world. Impossible Foods uses the heme molecule in its products to emulate the meat flavour. Heme is a substance typically found in blood (think haemoglobin) but Impossible Foods makes it from soybeans and yeast.

3. The meat market sees the writing on the wall

Plant-based fake meats are rapidly becoming a commercial success story. Analysts predict compound annual growth rates of 6% or more. Beyond Meat has seen its share price leap in the year since its initial public offering in mid 2019. Tofu, however, remains the biggest meat substitute product on the global market. The ‘real’ meat producers sense the future and want a piece of the action, with meat processors including Europe’s Bell Food Group and Tyson Foods in the US investing in the fake meat market in recent years.

4. Meat alternatives are not inherently better for your health

Don’t be fooled into thinking that all plant-based meat alternatives are better for your health. A food analysis done for CNN in 2019 showed that kilojoules from meat alternatives are roughly the same, but fats are 50-100% higher, while sodium (salt) levels can be more than 500% higher than a real meat burger patty. If you’re trying to be healthy, you’re actually better off choosing vegetable patties that aren’t trying to replicate the taste of meat.

5. Single-cell protein MAY be a substitute for almost any food

Finland’s Solar Foods produces a meat substitute made almost from thin air. It makes Solein, a single-cell protein from carbon dioxide, air and electricity. Devotees have high hopes that it could lead us into an even more sustainable future. Solar Foods has already partnered with the European Space Agency and plans to cultivate proteins that can be manipulated into anything from flour for pancakes to mince for fake meat. Let’s hope it can be made to taste good, too.

Read more:

Is fake meat the way of the future?

As the cost to manufacture ‘laboratory meat’ falls, the Australian and New Zealand meat industries are looking at how their products fit into the dinner menus of tomorrow.

Read more on fake meat’s effect