Foodtech is drawing the world to the edge of a new frontier that promises to transform not just the way we eat but the very essence of our culinary experience, redefining our relationship to food itself.
Propelled, once again, by the brutal conjunction of a pandemic and global warming, the convergence of technology and culinary excellence is disrupting the entire “food” ecosystem, starting with one of the most challenging ingredients of all: meat.
Time for a Sizzling Revolution
After a massive study, published in 2018, indicated that, without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could drop by more than 75% and still feed the world, a more recent piece of research, unveiled last July by Oxford University, put the final nail in the proverbial coffin by clearly demonstrating that plant-based diets lead to 75% less climate-heating emissions, water pollution, and land use than meat-rich ones while reducing the destruction of wildlife by 66% and water use by 54%. Or did it?
In fact, consumers are increasingly picky when it comes to tasting alternative meat. To the point that, in September, Californian plant-based meat company Beyond Meat, one of the global leaders on this industry alongside Impossible Foods and Gardein, had to “recognise the existential threat facing the business,” said investment bank TD Cowen, adding that the core problem is, well, the product.
The Alt Meat Dilemma
Plant-based meat, whether in burgers, sausages, crumbles, or strips, looks, cooks, and supposedly tastes like meat. Yet, consumers are not sold on its taste, aroma, and texture, according to research conducted by TD Cowen. And they’re not ready to pay a premium for a “fake” meat more expensive than the animal one. Besides, controversies are swirling around its actual nutrition value.
Reasons why consumers haven't tried plant-based meat.
Indeed, alternative meat is usually made from a protein (often tofu, pea, or soy, and increasingly fungus), plant oils, and a binding agent, to which texturising agents (such as stabilisers, thickeners, gelling agents, and emulsifiers) are added to replicate the taste and texture of meat – and herein lays the problem. These agents open the door to doubts, fears, and distrust.
Unlocking the right texturising technology that will provide a better and healthier experience could close these doors and open mouths and minds instead.
Cooking Up a Juicy Future
That’s what a company like Switch Food has been doing in the UAE since 2022. As founder Edward Hamod explained, the Middle East is not yet fully open to replacing meat-based foods, even though the value of plant-based products in the UAE was projected to surge from $12 million in 2022 to $15 million in 2023. Yet, “Considering the food security perspective, especially in regions where large-scale agriculture is unfeasible, technology becomes crucial,” he said. Time is proving him right. The brand’s halal-certified products are now available in more than 100 stores and online platforms, and Switch Food inaugurated the country’s first plant-based meat production facility in Abu Dhabi last April.
Who knows, it may follow in the steps of Heura Foods, a healthy meat-less meat startup founded in 2017 in Spain. Its products not only outperform animal proteins in terms of nutritional value but are so tasty that Michelin-starred chefs are incorporating them into their restaurant menus.
Delivering on sustainability, health, and flavour is the endgame of the greens-to-grills journey