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Science and Culture: Looking to “junk” food to design healthier options
Saturday, 2021/10/16 | 07:15:19

Amy McDermott; PNAS October 12, 2021 118 (41) e2116665118.


Figure: These “scallops” are made from pea protein and citrus pectin in McClements’ lab, just one example of the next generation of plant-based meats, seafoods, milks, eggs, and cheeses. Image credit: Zhiyun Zhang, Kanon Kobata, Hung Pham, and David Julian McClements (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA).


The now-famous plant protein patty known as the Impossible Burger is designed to mimic the taste, texture, and even bloodiness of real meat. Raw, it looks just like red ground beef. Grilled medium rare, the soy-based burger firms up but keeps its soft, pink center. “We’re replicating the entire sensory experience,” says biochemist Celeste Holz-Schietinger, an inventor for Impossible Foods, based in Redwood City, CA. “Even the sizzle.”


But this marvel of soy and heme isn’t the only culinary creation that borrows design principles from one food to create another. Food researchers are constantly trying to develop new products that entice consumers, without changing the look, taste, or appeal of the original version. The aims are for the benefit of human health, as well as environmental responsibility. From plant-based burgers to lower-fat salad dressings and mayonnaises, to nonalcoholic beers, researchers are designing a range of products by studying the full-fat, full-cholesterol, full-alcohol, or meat-based version. “Everything the consumer likes,” Holz-Schietinger says, “how do we understand that on a molecular level and recreate it?”


“The food industry in particular is beholden to consumer needs and wants,” says Simons at Ohio State. Historically, high sugar, fat, salt, and alcohol products sold well, so companies kept producing more and more of them. Now, as consumers seek out healthier alternatives to benefit the environment and their own bodies, the industry has to be flexible. Ultimately, the “holy grail,” Simons says, “is to make these healthier foods more appealing, satisfying, and rewarding.”


See: https://www.pnas.org/content/118/41/e2116665118

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