LEEDS, ENGLAND – Beef lovers occasionally claim the ultimate in satisfying mouthfeel is the burst of flavor released in the first bite of a thick, hot, and mouth-watering hamburger (above). No plant protein meat alternatives, their argument goes, will ever duplicate the sensation.
Those critics haven’t yet talked with Professor Anwesha Sarkar.
Sarkar and scientists at the University of Leeds in England are working to improve plant proteins that are a part of meat substitutes. So far they’ve succeeded in transforming previously “very dry” alternatives into something more “juicy and fat-like,” they reported Monday (Aug. 14, 2023).
The researchers have created a process in which the proteins are placed in water and “subjected to heating.” It “alters the structure of the protein molecules,” they said, to form interconnected protein microgels that trap surrounding water in what Sarkar describes as “a spider-like web.”
“This gives the much-needed hydration and juicy feel in the mouth,” Sarkar added. Their findings were published Aug. 7 (Monday) in the scientific journal “Nature.” The research team acknowledges its work is experimental, but nonetheless considers it a “breakthrough.”
Its members hope to revitalize consumer interest in plant-based proteins, and also reduce reliance on animal proteins. Lead researcher Ben Kew, a doctoral student in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds, said he believes plant protein microgels could also be used “in foods where fat has to be removed” for health reasons.
“This study reveals the ingenuity and depth of science involved in modern food technology,” according to Dr. Mel Holmes, one of the findings’ authors and an associate professor in the school.
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