Scientists in Canada develop plant-based whole-muscle meat using corn protein
A research team from Ontario, Canada, has used corn protein to develop plant-based whole-muscle meat analogues with similar textures to cooked steak or chicken breast.
Working at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) research institute, which is part of the University of Saskatchewan, the scientists discovered a new method for creating meat alternatives with the same fibrous qualities as animal-derived whole-muscle cuts with the help of the protein zein, which can be isolated from corn gluten.
The ingredient is free from colour and neutral in smell and taste, but most importantly, the researchers have found it has viscoelastic and stretchy attributes, making it useful for improving the texture of plant-based meats.
While companies around the world are developing plant-based whole-muscle meat cuts, the majority of alternatives on the market, such as burgers, nuggets, and sausages, are made from texturised vegetable proteins. These products are easier to produce in comparison to whole-cuts, which require extensive processing and expensive equipment to develop a product with a fibrous structure.
Instead of relying on intensive processing to improve the texture of meatless whole-cuts, the researchers looked at the existing physical and molecular properties of plant proteins like zein and pea, and rapid swelling starch, and assessed how they interact with each other. As they analysed the fibre density of their samples, the team found combining and ‘stretching’ the different proteins and starches allowed them to produce a whole-muscle meat analogue with textural properties that mimicked those in beef and chicken.
Lead researcher Stacie Dobson, a PhD student in the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph said: “We were looking at the market and we saw this opportunity to take a step back and use some fundamental ingredients such as protein and starch…to combine them and create a novel, whole meat-muscle analogue”.
During their time at the CLS institute, the Ontario team had access to the Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR) technology which could pass infrared light through their samples, revealing the differences in density of fibres. Explaining the benefits of FTIR, Dobson said: “FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared) Spectromicroscopy is a very unique technique. It’s as if you took a picture of your sample, and then you go to look at each of the pixels that make up your picture. They can tell you information about your sample. In our case, we were able to differentiate what happens around the fibers.”