Shiru develops viable alternative to tropical oils to replace animal fat in plant-based meat
14 Mar 2023 --- AI expert Shiru is unveiling a patented, protected novel ingredient hailed to overcome challenges often associated with replicating animal fats and geared toward unlocking the next generation of plant-based foods. OleoPro is poised to disrupt the market, competing with other plant fats like coconut oil that are currently used in alt-meat products but can result in a less juicy and fatty mouthfeel.
In an in-depth interview with FoodIngredientsFirst, Jasmin Hume, CEO of Shiru, explains how this new plant protein-based fat ingredient - which is awaiting patent approval expected early next year - gives another option over oils commonly used in plant-based meats (coconut and palm oil), which she says are “disastrous for the environment” and not healthy enough.
“Coconut and palm are the primary plant-based fats that are solid at room temperature and appear to mimic animal fat (though their performance differs since they are not truly “structured” and are just oil). However, they’re also massive contributors to deforestation and, because of their tropical origin, have an outsized negative impact on biodiversity compared to more sustainable liquid oils,” she says.
“Our chief product officer, Jason Voogt, was previously at Ferrero, the Italian confectionery company, where he witnessed some of these challenges firsthand. Being on the ground in Malaysia and Indonesia to see the scale and impact of the palm oil industry made him appreciate the urgency needed to develop viable alternatives to tropical oils that deliver the taste performance and scale that consumers expect.”
“And leveraging today’s oils to deliver on this performance need is the best way to quickly scale and mitigate the existing tropical oil sustainability challenges, which was one of the motivations behind OleoPro,” she explains.
Boosting sustainable plant-based oils
OleoPro is a “categorical upgrade,” bringing all the juiciness and fattiness consumers expect from conventional meats to plant-based, but with a much improved nutritional profile - and without tearing down the rainforest, stresses Hume.
“While we can’t share the specifics of the production process, we can say that OleoPro is a blend of uniquely-identified, commercially-available plant protein isolates and oils,” she continues.
“We leverage conventional food processing technologies in a unique way to enable the proteins to act as a structurant for the oil. This unique processing, in combination with specifically selected input ingredients informed by our discovery platform, Flourish, is the differentiator for OleoPro.”
OleoPro was created with a focus on performance in plant-based meat. However, some of its existing performance features and its tunability across certain parameters open up a number of other potential applications.
Shiru is exploring its potential to replace the fat component in plant-based dairy, including soft cheese, creamer, and butter, as well as in bakery in cake, whipped toppings and frosting.
In personal care, OleoPro has the potential to replace palm, coconut, or other petroleum-based oils often used in body butter, lip balm, and hair conditioner, as well as to replace irritating, chemical-based emulsifying ingredients often used in mineral sunscreen, lotion, and face masks.
“We’ve sampled several companies already and received strong feedback on OleoPro’s performance in application. We will continue to sample OleoPro as we prioritize partners for initial launch and scale up to commercial production via CMO later this year,” Hume adds.
Overcoming formulation challenges
OleoPro is self-standing, holding its shape at room temperature; browns when cooked; and delivers a juicy, fatty mouthfeel in plant-based meat applications.
It enables a 90% reduction in saturated fat while enhancing technical performance in alternative meats compared to commonly used, environmentally taxing structured fats.
“Traditional animal fat (adipose tissue) contains a network of connected fat cells and fibers, allowing it to hold its structure when cooked - think of the bands of fat that hold together when you cook bacon, for example. Plant fats like coconut oil that are currently used in alt meat products are missing this network, as they’re generally comprised of oil only,” Hume explains further.
“Because of this, when cooked, the oil leaches from the product, resulting in a less juicy and fatty mouthfeel. The sensory experience is just not the same. OleoPro uses proteins to structure a sustainable oil to mimic the network within a traditional animal adipose tissue, which enables it to more closely match the performance of a saturated, structured animal fat.”
“OleoPro demonstrates lower cooking loss, resulting in a juicier sensory experience compared to plant-based burgers made with currently available oil alternatives,” continues Hume.
“It also browns when heated, which again is much closer to a true animal fat experience and not something coconut oil can provide. This is especially relevant in formats like whole cuts and bacon.
“Finally, OlePro forms a stable emulsion, without the need for additional emulsifiers, allowing it to be used in a range of performance applications beyond plant-based meat, including plant-based dairy.”
It’s being showcased for the first time at San Francisco’s Future Food-Tech conference as part of a plant-based crispy chik’n karaage developed by Nourish Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of Griffith Foods.
Expectations and trends
Industry feedback, including from alternative protein company UPSIDE Foods, has been strong.
“Our testing revealed OleoPro to be a promising fat solution for alt meats, demonstrating superior performance in approximating beef fat compared to a range of plant-based fat systems in the market,” says Daniel Davila, senior food scientist at UPSIDE.
Hume also explains how retail purchase data shows that the end consumer is generally curious about plant-based meats, which translates to an initial purchase, but repeat purchases are challenged.
“Our thesis as a company is that taste and texture performance in alternative proteins is a key driver for the end consumer, and while today’s plant-based products are leaps ahead of previous iterations, they still don’t provide an equivalent sensory experience as their animal-based counterparts,” she adds.
“In meat, fat is a crucial driver of several sensory parameters including juiciness, fatty mouthfeel, bite, and texture. Because of its broad impact on the sensory experience, an improved fat solution represents an opportunity for meaningful overall product performance improvement, which was an attractive opportunity for us.”
By Gaynor Selby
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