Plant based meat consumption is growing fast, driven by a powerful mix of environmental, ethical, health and economic concerns. And its growth is showing no signs of slowing. According to the Plant Based Foods Association and The Good Food Institute, the meat substitute market totaled $1.4 billion in 2020. This success in turn generates new interest. One of the most asked questions: how is plant based meat made? As in countless other industries, nitrogen plays a key role.
Plant based meat tastes, looks and feels just like animal based meat, but it consists entirely of ingredients procured from plants. This includes protein, fat, carbohydrates, fibers, vitamins, minerals, and water. Its goal is to replace some or all of the animal based meat in our food consumption and production. That goal is not improbable. Plant based meat is recording triple and double-digit growth, with vegetarians, vegans but also with "flexitarians." The latter group consists of meat eaters who have introduced meat substitutes in their daily diet.
So how is plant based meat made? Let's take a closer look.
Extrusion is one of the main methods of producing plant based meat. It also is one of the most energy efficient means of mass food production available today.
Extrusion technology mixes soft ingredients, forms the food, cooks and processes it in a 3-steps process.
In the first step, the protein powders (made from soy, lentils, chickpeas, ...) are premixed to ensure the quality of the final product.
Next, the mixture in fed into an extruder, which consists of a barrel with rotating screws. The extruder both forms and cooks the food - typically in mere seconds.
Finally, the product is ready for processing, which can include anything from cutting to grinding or coating.
The entire extrusion process is a continuous, controllable, and cost-efficient means of production. That is why many food manufacturers are converting their existing processes to extrusion due to its costs and environmental benefits.
During plant based meat product extrusion, nitrogen gas is injected into the extruder. The goal is to achieve a process called protein aeration. The nitrogen creates a microporous structure in the product. This ensures a better color, a “meatier” texture and an improved flavor absorption.
Food production plants have traditionally relied on nitrogen bulk or bottles of nitrogen. However, these nitrogen deliveries come with a significant cost and carbon footprint. Generating nitrogen on-site reduces the cost per unit of gas and eliminates the transportation emissions of deliveries. It also gives companies control over their nitrogen supply. That is why an increasing number of production facilities are making the switch to self-producing nitrogen – and to Pneumatech as their gas generation partner.
As the leader in air treatment and gas generation, Pneumatech has developed the most energy efficient nitrogen generators available on the market. These products often use the PSA (pressure swing adsorption) process to efficiently and reliably produce food-grade nitrogen. Pneumatech nitrogen generation systems also have 24/7 local and remote connectivity for constant monitoring and visibility of your processes.
If you want to learn more about Pneumatech solutions for your plant based meat production, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our experts are ready to answer all your questions.