Sustainable Animal-Free Alternatives?

As public concerns over health and climate change grow, there has been an explosion of sustainable plant-based products being produced by food companies (or FoodTech companies) ranging from cultured meat, seafood from sea plants to egg-less mayonnaise just to name a few. How are these futuristic products produced and what are their impacts on health?


Meat Alternatives


The world may call them "lab-grown" but companies due to marketing purposes adopted terms such as "cultured meat", "cell-based meat", or even "clean meat". On the other hand, ranchers/farmers have been using the term "fake-meat" when discussing such products.


Process

Cells are extracted from animals, treated in a growth medium resulting in cell proliferation. This is then placed in a bio-reactor which supplies the cells with the energy it requires. Cells are then grown in a scaffold to give structure to the product.

It involves meat produced by in-vitro cultivation of animal cells rather than from slaughter.

Here are some of the companies that have replicated animal meat using solely plant-based ingredients - but it’s not really being targeted at veggies, these alternatives will definitely appeal to the health-conscious omnivore and environmentally aware consumer.


1. Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat is a Los Angeles-based producer of plant-based meat substitutes founded by vegan Ethan Brown in 2009. They use pea protein mixed with fats in the same proportion as found in ground beef to create a similar taste and texture like beef. By using beetroot juice, it creates the effect of the burger bleeding a meaty red hue.

Product Range: Burger patties, sausage (original and hot Italian) and minced beef

Allergy information: Free from Gluten, Peanuts, Soy

Price: Beyond Burger £ 5.50 for a pack of two patties (Tesco), £10.95 for a set at Honest Burgers


Nutrition Per Burger

(4 ounces/113 grams)

Calories: 270 kcal

Fat: 20 g (5 g saturated fat)

Protein: 20 g

Sodium: 380 mg (0.95g salt)

Carbohydrates: 5 g

Fiber: 3 g

Sugars: 0 g

Vitamin C: 4 mg (7%)

Calcium: 20 mg (2%)

Iron: 5.4 mg (30%)


The patties pack four main ingredients: water, pea protein isolate, rapeseed (canola) oil, and refined coconut oil with minimal amounts of potato starch and beetroot juice as well.

As for other highlights, the Beyond Burger packs in 20 g of protein, 20 mg of calcium, along with some vitamin C and an impressive amount of non-heme iron meeting 30% of your daily quota.

2. Impossible Foods

Impossible Foods Inc. is a Californian-based food company founded in 2011 by a biochemistry professor, Patrick O. Brown. The Impossible Burger, their signature product, was launched in 2016 and subsequently, the Impossible Burger 2.0 with an upgraded recipe was released early 2019. Not only with improvements in taste and texture but the modified burger also seemed to be healthier as well —17% lower in calories, 30% less sodium and 40% less saturated fat than the original version.

One of the main ingredients that they use is a plant-derived heme, leghemoglobin, found naturally in the roots of soy plants. This is a molecule in blood that gives the burgers a more natural, bloody aesthetic to the meat.


Product Range: Burger patties

Allergy Information: Contains wheat and soy

Price: Available at a wide range of fast-food hamburger chains in the U.S.


Nutrition Per Burger

(4 ounces/113 grams)

Calories: 240 kcal

Fat: 14 g (8 g saturated fat)

Protein: 19 g

Sodium: 370 mg (0.9 g salt)

Carbohydrates: 9 g

Fibre: 3 g

Sugars: <1 g

B Vitamins

Calcium: 170 mg (15%)

Iron: 4.2 mg (25%)


The Impossible Burger ingredients list includes wheat protein, coconut oil, and potato protein.


With the upgraded version, a 4-ounce serving contains 19 g of protein, 4.2 mg of iron meeting 25% of your quota and a wide range of B vitamins.


3. Moving Mountains

Moving Mountains is a UK based company founded by Simeon Van Der Molen is famously known for their B12 Burger. Moving Mountains is billed as the UK’s answer to the US’s Impossible Burger. Similar to Beyond Burger, they use a blend of pea protein, wheat protein, and mushrooms, with coconut oil and beet juice which allows a juicy ‘bleed’ at the centre of the patty. The burgers are loaded with herbs, spices and packed with Vitamin B12, hence the name.

Product Range: Burger patties, sausage (original and hot Italian) and minced beef

Allergy information: contains gluten and soy

Price: Restaurants across the UK for around £10


Nutrition Per Burger

(per 100 grams)

Calories: 241 kcal

Fat: 15.9 g (12 g saturated fat)

Protein: 18.8 g

Sodium: 480 mg (1.2 g salt)

Carbohydrates: 1.6 g

Fibre: 8.3 g

Sugars: 0.3 g

B Vitamins

(not shown on the website)


Moving Mountain's B12 burger is made from pea protein, wheat protein, soy protein, coconut oil, beetroot, and fortified with vitamin B12.


It provides 19 g of protein per 100 g and is quite high in saturated fat but there is no mention of the micro-nutrient content. I have to point out that the serving sizes are smaller than the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger.


4. Quorn

Founded in 1985 in the U.K., Quorn entered the market selling meat substitute products used in a range of prepackaged meals.

In 2002, Quorn got off to a poor start in the US when the American Mushroom Institute complained that Fusarium is not a mushroom in which Quorn responds by removing "mushroom in origin" from their packaging.


These products are made from mycoprotein derived from single-cell fungi and mixed with egg albumen as a binder which are then pressed into various shapes.


Potato protein is used instead of egg albumen for their vegan products.


Product ranges: more than 100 products, from the typical mince and sausages to escalopes and toad in the hole. (However, Quorn can only produce the features of these lower-grade frozen meats.)

Allergy information: contains Fusarium venenatum, some contain wheat, gluten and/or soy

Price: £2 - £3 depending on the product


Nutrition Per Meatless Patty

(per 75 grams)

Calories: 130 kcal

Fat: 5 g (0 g saturated fat)

Protein: 8 g

Sodium: 290 mg (0.7 g salt)

Carbohydrates: 17 g

Fibre: 5 g

Sugars: 0.5 g


Each meatless patty (75 g) contains very low in calories, fat and actually contain a decent amount of protein. However, Quorn products are rarely fortified with other micronutrients.


Other brands worth mentioning:

Vivera

Icelands No Bull

Naturli' Foods


Meat Alternatives vs. Conventional Burger Patty (80% lean beef, 20% fat)

Meat alternatives compare favourably to lean ground beef in terms of nutrition.


A typical serving of a 20% fat burger patty provides similar calories and protein content to the burger alternatives (except for Quorn) but it actually has higher levels of cholesterol.


Conventional burger patties provide a good source of vitamin B6, B12, niacin, riboflavin, zinc and heme iron alongside with other micronutrients and on average is lower in salt as well.


Nutrition Per Burger

(4 ounces/113 grams)

Calories: 287 kcal

Fat: 22 g (9 g saturated fat)

Protein: 20 g

Sodium: 75 mg (0.19 g salt)

Carbohydrates: 0 g

Fibre: 0 g

Sugars: 0 g

B Vitamins

Zinc

Iron



Seafood Alternatives


5. New Wave Foods

New Wave Foods co-founded by Dominique Barnes & Michelle Wolf in 2011 produces algae-based shrimp, soy-based protein (testing other protein sources for future iterations) and other natural ingredients that are not mentioned on the website.

Product ranges: Shrimp is the most consumed seafood in the US ahead of salmon and tuna.

Allergy information: contains soy

Price: $11.99 dish at Veestro and other restaurants (Available only in California and NYC)


As this is a relatively new company, nutritional information could not be found online.


6. Ocean Hugger Foods

Ocean Hugger Foods founded in 2015 by James Corwell, 1 of the 60 certified master chefs in the US. The plant-based alternative to raw tuna, Ahimi, was developed for use in dishes including sashimi, nigiri, poke, tartare and ceviche. Ahimi tastes remarkably like tuna made with simple ingredients such as filtered water, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar but the secret is in the texture of the tomato.

Product ranges: Ahimi (Blue-fin tuna) and in development — Sakimi (a carrot-based salmon alternative), and Unami and (eggplant-based eel alternative)

Allergy information: contains soy

Price: $8.99 for eight Ahimi California rolls


Unlike the meat alternatives, Ahimi is actually cheaper than its original form.


Nutrition For Ahimi Tomato California Roll

(8 Rolls)

Calories: 390 kcal

Fat: 8 g (1 g saturated fat)

Protein: 5 g

Sodium: 700 mg (1.75 g salt)

Carbohydrates: 65 g

Fibre: 3 g

Sugars: 10 g

Calcium: 20 mg (2%)

Iron: 0.8 mg (4%)


Other "clean fish" companies:

Sophies Kitchen founded in 2011 produces vegan seafood products such as crab meat, shrimp, scallops, tuna, and salmon

Finless Fish Inc. founded in 2017 plans to launch bluefish tuna by the end of 2019



Dairy Alternatives & Others


7. JUST, Inc. (Hampton Creek)


JUST Inc. is an American food manufacturing company co-founded by Josh Balk and Josh Tetrick in 2011 which produces a wide range of plant-based foods that are sold internationally.


Product Ranges: mayonnaise, dressings, cookie dough, breakfast proteins and cultured meat

Allergy information: contains soy

Price: $7.99 for a 12oz (340 ml) bottle of Just Egg (with a shelf life of 4 days once opened), available in the US, Hong Kong and Singapore



Ingredients

Eggs (Just Eggs): Mung bean protein isolate

Mayonnaise (Just Mayo) & Dressings: Yellow pea protein

Edible cookie dough: Whole grain sorghum flour

Cultured Meat: Wagyu beef using cells from Toriyama cows (not released)


Controversy: Questionable science, slippery ethics, and a tough work environment.


Nutrition Per Egg

(3 tbsp per serving equivalent to 1 egg)

Calories: 70 kcal

Fat: 5 g (0 g saturated fat)

Protein: 5 g

Sodium: 170 mg (0.4 g salt)

Carbohydrates: 1 g

Fibre: 0 g

Sugars: 0 g

Iron: 0.8 mg (4%)


JUST eggs are made with mung bean protein isolate and natural turmeric extractives sold in a liquid form and was debuted at a San Francisco restaurant in late 2017.


These egg replacements are very similar to normal eggs in terms of calories (70 calories) and protein (6 grams) without the cholesterol. However, these are lacking certain micronutrients such as vitamins A, D, B vitamins and calcium.

 

Environmental Impact - Sustainability

Overall environmental impacts of these products are substantially lower than their counterparts - when compared to conventionally produced European meat, cultured meat involves 7-45% lower energy use, 78-96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use and 82-96% lower water use.


In addition, over-fertilisation harms plants and animals and damages ecosystems worldwide. In coastal waters, they can result in oxygen-starved “dead zones” in which shrimp and fish cannot survive.


Ethical Reasons

Of course, there are moral and ethical reasons why people would choose these products over live animals just by reading these articles:


Scientists Believe The Chickens We Eat Are Being Slaughtered While Conscious

What Happens to Male Chicks in the UK

Cattle cruelty case: What makes a cow go wild?

Can we justify killing animals for food?

A Synthetic Replacement for Shrimp Made by Slaves


Or even a groundbreaking documentary released in 2017 in Germany

The End of Meat

Not only this may eliminate human cruelty to animals, it hopefully will put a stop to human-slave trade. Why slaughter millions of cattle when you can harvest cells from a single cow to culture millions of burgers? Why support those who are forced to work against their will, dehumanised and treated as a commodity and sold as a property (of course, not all business does this)?


Health-wise

Benefits

Substitute products can be produced without artificial hormones, antibiotics and steroids which are commonly used in factory farmed meat and seafood. There will be a lower chance of spreading diseases and outbreaks such as the swine flu and avian flu. The production process decreases exposure to bacteria and hence, reduce food poisoning risks such as E.coli and Salmonella.


These products provide a great source of protein as most of them uses plant-based protein as their base ingredients perfect for vegetarians/vegans.

In terms of nutrition, these products can easily be modified and fortified with vitamins or omega-3 fatty acids potentially optimising nutritionally profiles making it healthier than live-stock sourced meat.

Sustainable plant-based foods are definitely the next step in a long development process and could replace conventional animal products with a healthier, more ethical, and more sustainable alternative.

Negatives

With that being said, all these alternatives are all incontestably ultra-processed and are packed with food additives, such as preservatives, colourings and fillers. Although not in a great quantity, certain food additives have been associated with adverse reactions in some and it may be best for these people to avoid some of these products.


Quite often, these products will use general terms or add the word "natural" to the ingredient list making it more appealing to consumers e.g lemon juice instead of lemon extract or natural flavours/extractives. People may automatically perceive these alternatives as being healthier.


Furthermore, some of these alternatives are on average higher in salt and/or saturated fats which are added during the manufacturing process in order to mimic its counterparts. It is always a good idea to check the nutrition information labels before purchasing products!


Moreover, there is “no evidence” from large-scale studies that specifically looks at such products. Of course, there are studies showing people who ate more plant protein and less animal protein had a lower overall risk of death, but the plant protein in the study was mostly beans, pulses and nuts rather than these alternatives.


Another point is that the concept of having your meal being made from a petri dish or lab may not be that appetising to some.

However, it is not to say that these products cannot be safely consumed as part of a healthy diet especially for those who are vegetarians/vegans when choices may be limited or for meat-eaters who want to cut down on meat consumption — its all about your overall diet!

Pricey?

Another thing to consider is about the price of these products. Small scale production translates to higher prices when compared to larger scale conventional production.


In 2008, it was about US$1 million (£ 0.5 million back then) for a piece of beef weighing 250 grams.


Although this is a relatively new area, it has high potential to expand and with technological advancements, this may lead to cultured meat having lower prices than their conventional counterparts as early as 2020.


Conventional Farmers?

Of course, the explosion of all these products may be a nightmare for conventional producers around the world —dairy farmers, egg farmers, and cattlemen — less business for them but there will still be a place for animal agriculture. We cannot simply just endorse cell-cultured products overnight as we have been eating "traditional" produce for thousands of years. However, whether "traditional" animal products will still remain traditional is questionable in the future.


The Verdict


In my opinion, such products will become more widespread in the next few years as customers are not just looking for good tasting healthy products but they are also considering the production method, impact on the environment, sustainability, philosophies behind products — this will lead to higher market demand and more companies investing in this area.


As I had the chance to try cultured meat products, it does match the appearance, texture, and taste of regular meat to some extent BUT having eaten meat for my entire life, I can still tell the slight difference between them. However, I do agree that it does address the most common concern about going meatless!


At the end of the day, I tend to stay away from processed products and choose whole-food ingredients whenever possible. As I'm gradually cutting down on animal meats, I will not shy away from such alternatives when prices are more competitive, easily accessible and similarly tasty!