Meatless meat? UC Berkeley launches plant-based meat engineering lab

Aslesha Kumar/Staff

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A new lab is being launched in the campus’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, featuring a new program aimed at concocting plant-based meat alternatives.

The associated course, INDENG 185 002, had its first meeting Wednesday and was designed by visiting campus professor Ricardo San Martin and The Good Food Institute senior scientist Christie Lagally. It is an expansion of an earlier course offered in the spring and will feature experts who will discuss the alternative meat industry.

The Sutardja Center is providing funds for students to use various campus labs for research as part of an increase of resources from the spring when courses were first offered. Students will develop alternative meat products to present to industry experts by the end of the course.

According to Lagally, plant meats are currently less than 0.25 percent of the total meat industry, but by 2020, one-third of the protein produced is projected to be from alternative proteins, such as plants or insects.

At the first meeting, Givaudan Flavors Corporation, a food and fragrance product development company, sent research fellow Jeffrey Spencer to present to the class. Spencer provided dairy-free milk samples, which contained 20 grams of plant protein comprised primarily of pea protein. Water and natural starches were also added to enhance the texture and taste.

Several students enjoyed the plant-based milk, with some going back for seconds and thirds.

“This class is not just product development, it’s about social change,” Lagally said.

According to Lagally, reducing meat consumption is linked to reducing a variety of problems impacting humans and animals around the world. Lagally cited reports designating animal agriculture as responsible for contributing to global warming more so than various forms of emissions-intensive transportation such as airplanes and trucks.

She also stressed the impact of meat on global poverty, since using grains directly as food would feed more people than if the same grains were used to raise livestock instead. Lagally described it as a “competition between food for the poor and animals for the wealthy.”

Spencer stated that new plant-based meat products are focused on replacing meat rather than just being an alternative. He contrasted the newer type of plant-based or lab-grown meat with more traditional meat alternatives, such as tofu hot dogs or bean burgers, which do not attempt to completely simulate meat.

According to Spencer, plant-based meats will be consumed by “flexitarians” — people who mainly eat plant-based products because of their changing views on meat’s impact on health and wellbeing. To him, flexitarians are the “biggest driver of the whole market.”

Spencer emphasized the growing market, citing a 98 percent increase in new products being introduced and advertised as “plant-based proteins” from 2015 to 2016.

“People are considering negative health implications (such as) obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular problems,” Spencer said.

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.