Nourish specialty ‘animal-free’ fats promise superior performance in meat and dairy alternatives

As firms such as Motif FoodWorks have observed​, hard fats such as coconut oil – which are typically added to plant proteins post extrusion – are not distributed throughout plant-based burgers in the same way that fat is distributed in animals, plus they have a tendency to leak out during cooking and impart a coconutty smell.

“Specialty fats such as coconut are being added to plant-based meats for particular functional or mouthfeel purposes,” ​said Dr. James Petrie, co-founder and CEO at Nourish Ingredients​, which is based in Canberra, but plans to target the North American market.

“The problems is, they don’t resemble animal fats closely enough, in terms of their performance, mouthfeel, flavor and aroma,” ​Petrie told FoodNavigator-USA. 

They are also in limited supply, added Petrie, a crop metabolic engineer who worked as a research scientist at Australia’s national science agency CSIRO before co-founding Nourish​ ​with Ben Leita in early 2020.

“Sustainability is critically important for meat and dairy alternatives. If you look at how much coconut plantation there is around the world, there is no way that that is going to scale up to the sort of volumes that everybody hopes plant protein will scale to, unless you turn coconut into a palm oil 2.0 ​[palm oil has been widely linked to deforestation].”  

‘I think there are going to be some applications where cell-cultured fat is a fine solution’

If you want to make animal fats, bio-identical ‘animal-free’ animal fats, or completely novel fats that behave like animal fats, all without killing animals, you can genetically engineer plants  or microbes such as yeast, or you can make cell-cultured fat (by growing real fat cells in a bioreactor like Mission Barns​), said Petrie. And all three have pros and cons.

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