Typically, we only talk about how a product tastes “artificial” or “chemical” when it fails to taste like the “natural” food it’s imitating—but even the best imitators are, of course, meticulously engineered. Flavoring is big business, whether it’s adding notes of char to your fast food burger or adding seasonal flair to your Twinkies. And with plant-based meat substitutes like Impossible and Beyond Meat growing in popularity, a new challenge arises: How do we make this stuff taste like beef?
The Seattle Times took that question directly to the flavorists making it happen. One unique challenge with plant-based meat, they explain, is that its components like pea proteins and soy give the food an earthy flavor that must be complemented. It’s a puzzle with no obvious solution; experts try incorporating umami flavors without overpowering meat’s more mineral notes, trying seemingly infinite combinations to get the balance right. Heaped on top of this are the pressures of finding a formula for clients looking to hit the market almost immediately, before competitors scoop up the customer base.
It’s an interesting read, not least of all because it brings up the point that, “Despite its swift ascent, plant-based meat is the antithesis of recent trends such as local and farm-to-table dining, representing an embrace of highly processed foods made palatable in a laboratory by technicians.” Consumers contain multitudes, it seems.