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FOR THE WEEK OF JULY 22, 2019

From labs to plates: Taste-fooling burgers with no meat and ‘seafood’ without fish

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Food scientists achieve amazing feats. Newsmaking achievements now in restaurants generate positive reactions from people impressed that they're can't tell mock meat and seafood aren't the real deal. Sales of plant-based burgers that taste and look remarkably like beef are growing as two products – the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger -- become available more widely. Items made from Impossible Burger's ingredient are sold nationwide in 5,000 sites. Burger King recently introduced a meatless Impossible Whopper, which the chain says will be in its nearly 7,300 locations by the end of 2019. Separately, several companies are developing seafood alternatives with plant-based recipes or lab techniques that grow fish from cells.

This trend is fueled by consumer concerns about health and the environmental impact of animal agriculture. A major breakthrough lets companies create reddish, juicy patties that cook, look and taste virtually the same as hamburgers – but without animal fat that can raise the risk of cancer or a heart attack because of clogged arteries (blood vessels). The lab advance features a molecule called heme (pronounced HEE-mm), introduced in 2016 and now used by White Castle (the Impossible Slider), Qdoba and Little Caesars, in addition to Burger King. Scientists found that heme, which carries oxygen to our cells via blood, drives the flavor humans associate with meat tastes. "It has all the qualities people love about beef -- mouthwatering aroma, lip-licking flavor, texture and color and juiciness -- without actually being beef or any other animal food product," Newsweek explains this month. Heme distinguishes the new generation of meatless burgers "from all the other veggie burgers and vegan patties that have graced the market," the magazine adds.

Impossible Foods, based in Redwood City, Calif., hopes to also develop mock pork, chicken and fish that taste like the real things. Its research whizzes already created an anchovy-flavored broth as an early step in the firm's fishless-fish project. Good Catch, another specialist in plant-based food, recently started a line of fish-free tuna that's sold at Whole Foods.

But "it's unclear whether consumers — even those who eat meatless burgers — will embrace fish alternatives," coverage in The New York Times says this month under a funny headline: "The Fish Is Boneless. (Fishless, Too.)" Beyond Meat says it'll focus only on beef, poultry and pork. Chief executive Pat Brown of Impossible knows "consumers aren't crying out for plant-based fish.” He tells The Times: "The only way we can succeed is to make fish from plants that is more delicious than the fish that's strip-mined from the ocean."

Food techie says: "Many companies will see that this is now a possible foot forward to not only make money, but also feed the world and save the planet." -- Chris Davis, research associate at Impossible Foods

Nonprofit leader says: "Consumers still want to eat meat, so let's just give them meat made in a better way." -- Alison Rabschnuk of the Good Food Institute in Washington, D.C.

Company mission: "Using animals to make meat is a prehistoric and destructive technology. Animal agriculture occupies almost half the land on earth, consumes a quarter of our freshwater and destroys our ecosystems. So we're . . . making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again." – Impossible Foods website

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2019
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