Heme 2.0: Spirulina extract challenges Impossible Foods’ “bleeding” hero ingredient in plant patties
19 Feb 2021 --- In an accidental discovery, Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) has figured out a way to isolate spirulina’s heme compound while studying a process to make the color purple using the marine algae.
The result is a hero solution that mimics the smell, taste and grilling functionalities of the “bleeding” component in popular plant-based meats – now offered as an alternative to genetically modified yeast-based heme.
BYAS is currently upscaling its production and will be working with a small number of innovative companies across the world who are producing breakthrough plant-based food products including “whole-cut” steaks and fish or other seafood.
“There are some other heme analogs that are largely experimental and none of them can currently be produced at sufficient volume to supply the global market,” Leonard Lerer, founder and CEO of BYAS, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“The BYAS heme analog is produced from organic spirulina and is non-GMO. The heme analog was discovered during our food colorant R&D where we noticed that one of our extracts had a strong ‘meaty odor.’”
As Impossible Foods’ heme is not on the market as a standalone ingredient, BYAS has targets to become a large-scale supplier to other producers seeking to branch out selections along the dynamic plant-based aisle.
Challenger to an industry ringleader
The best known plant-based heme analog on the market is leghemoglobin, produced by Impossible Foods through an insertion of DNA from soy plants into genetically engineered yeast. This yeast is fermented – in a similar way beer is made – to produce heme.
Impossible Foods’ heme was classified as safe for consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019, but was challenged by a lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) last January.
Early objections raised by the CFS in 2019 were ultimately rejected by the FDA as the watchdog concluded these did not merit revoking the safety assessment of Impossible Foods’ hero ingredient.
FoodIngredientsFirst has reached out to Impossible Foods for comment.
Grilling properties and health ingredient synergies
Besides conferring a natural umami and meaty taste, the BYAS algal heme analog browns when heated and can be used to give plant-based meat a gradation of color when grilled similar to animal-based meat.
“Of particular interest from a sustainability perspective is the fact that the BYAS heme analog can be combined with other BYAS extracts – such as our F602 spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass and mushroom extract – to improve the organoleptic properties of plant-based meat,” notes Lerer.
BYAS’s F602 is a functional health powder extracted and purified using an organic solvent-free process. It is marketed as a clean-label ingredient for vegan foods, mayonnaise, beverages, meal replacement products, sauces and dressings.
“This makes it possible to reduce our dependence on soy and pea concentrates and isolates, opening the door to using more sustainable plant biomass and protein sources including oats and mycelia (mushrooms).”
Despite a lot of interest and investment, plant-based meat still has a long way to go before it becomes an economically priced staple for billions of people, asserts Lerer. “We need to reduce the pressure that animal-based meat places on our environment.
Circular spirulina for meatier plant burgers
As BYAS’ heme analog is based on is a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) food colorant, Lerer anticipates that BYAS will soon be able to meet market demand before the end of the year without regulatory issues.
The budding food-tech player’s products are produced using a zero-waste, circular economy approach, as Lerer details. This includes valorizing food waste through algal anaerobic digestion and the bioremediation of the digestate, as well as using remediated digestate for cellular agriculture.
“We do not currently cultivate sufficient algae to meet our production needs, so we buy algae from suppliers all over the world. There is an abundant supply of algae and as it is nutrient dense, transportation costs and environment impact are limited.”
BYAS is currently in talks to build its own algae farms as part of a zero-waste, circular economy system.
The health properties of Spirulina extracts are well documented and range from being potent microbiome stimulators to being powerful antioxidants and immune modulators.
Trending shades of the color blue on the market has led to an increased demand for the algae ingredient, inspiring launches of spirulina-derived natural food colorants by GNT, Chr. Hansen and Algavista.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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