This week, Boston-based food technology startup Motif FoodWorks announced a year-long project in which it will work to improve the taste, texture and appearance of plant-based meat and dairy products. The project aims to close a gap in the plant-based meat and cheese sector by developing better plant-based fats.
Motif, which launched in February 2019, will work on the project in collaboration with the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, and Dr. Alejandro Marangoni, Tier I Canada Research Chair in Food, Health and Aging at Guelph and founder of ingredient company Coasun, Inc.
Typically, plant-based meats and cheeses rely on coconut oil to replicate the sensory experience of animal-derived fats. But this ingredient falls short in mimicking animal fat when it comes to taste, cooking qualities or interactions with other ingredients. That’s where Motif comes in.
“Creating the right kind of fat structures in plant-based foods is one of the most significant—and exciting—challenges in the category because fat plays such a critical role in what makes some of our favorite food experiences so satisfying,” said Mike Leonard, chief technology officer at Motif FoodWorks. “In our work with Marangoni and the University of Guelph, we will evaluate technologies with the potential to serve as critical new building blocks in plant-based food design.”
The project will explore novel technologies such as replacing saturated fat with an animal-free emulsion system that exhibits the physical properties of saturated fat at room temperature. It will also look to replicate critical animal fat structures, such as the pockets of fat in meat products that produce, and improve the texture of plant-based cheeses to be more meltable and elastic.
“Understanding how to properly structure fat in plant-based food is mission-critical for the food industry,” Marangoni said. “We are excited to work alongside Motif to determine how some of the newest and most exciting technologies will work in new food products to improve the sensory experience of plant-based meat and dairy on a broader scale.”
If the project is successful, Motif could be entering the plant-based market at a lucrative time. New retail sales data released in early March showed that grocery sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products have grown 29 percent in the past two years to $5 billion. With more realistic tasting plant-based meats and cheeses and a massive shift toward veganism, that number is destined to grow.