On a white-hot skillet in a kitchen populated by burger buns, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomatoes sit two patties made by a company that just left cab company Uber in the dust. If we eat with all our senses, then the patties’ meaty char, intense sizzle, and saliva-inducing aroma are banquets unto themselves. And it’s primarily for these reasons that plant-based meat company Beyond Meat is now the best initial public offering (IPO) in the US in 2019. Compare that to Uber, for whom elegies are being written after its stock fell 18% just two days after it went public.
Varun Deshpande, managing director of Good Food Institute (GFI), India, has another, even better Beyond Meat product to offer in his south Mumbai home. It’s the Beyond Sausage Brat Original, a plump, coarse-textured, bratwurst-style sausage whose umami juices flow when the casing snaps open. There’s a gaminess to it that’s absent in Beyond Meat’s patties, and a mouthfeel that underlines why pork, in one’s opinion, is more versatile than beef.
Except, neither of Beyond Meat’s products has animal origins.
The ‘animal fats’ that ooze on the skillet? Those are coconut, canola, and sunflower oils. The medium-rare appearance? Beet extract and fruit-vegetable juice. The brat casing? Derived from algae. And the proteins? Made from peas, broad beans, and rice. All held together by potato starch, methylcellulose, and other product-specific ingredients like apple fibre and bamboo cellulose.
This is the next frontier of meat. In a finite world occupied by a burgeoning human population, plant-based meat could do something about the unsustainability of industrial animal farming. Science tells us a third of the world’s freshwater, and 26% of the planet’s ice-free land is used for livestock alone; and that we’ll need plant-based flexitarian diets and technological interventions in food production to save us from ourselves. These drivers, alongside animal welfare, are why Beyond Meat and perceived rival Impossible Foods, which raised $300 million via Series E financing on 13 May, are touted as the Coke and Pepsi of alternative meat.
Traditional meat consumption is increasing, but so is veganism. Which means the quest for mass production of alternative, or alt meat, is now a mad race between the traditionalists. Fast food chain Burger King offers the plant-based ‘Impossible Whopper’. Tyson Foods—the world’s second-largest chicken, pork, and beef processor—has invested in cell-based meat company Memphis Meats. Cargill Foods, the world’s third-largest meat producer, is betting on Israel-based Aleph Farms, a startup that wants to make cell-based steak.
The promise of cell-based or cultured meat supersedes the promise of plant-based meat because it’s straight out the future playbook of the Century 21 Exposition. It’s an eventuality where animal cells will be cultured in bioreactors, meaning the meat on your plate will be from poultry or livestock, but minus the slaughter.