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The high-tech future of plant-based meat

The starting point is the pea or bean which will be developed using biological algorithms and precision breeding

Vegan meats will evolve with technological interventions. (Photo: Likemeat, Unsplash)

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Fake meat is in trouble. Sales of plant-based burgers are falling, investor largesse is waning and shares of the industry’s poster child, Beyond Meat Inc., have slumped. 

Still, ardent believers in products that can replace animal protein and help save the planet are backing a fundamental makeover. That means better ingredients offering more appealing textures, flavors and aromas, but also ones that require less processing, energy and resources, according to Costa Yiannoulis, managing partner at Synthesis Capital, a venture capital fund.

Also read | The Indian doctor who leads a cultured meat start-up in California

The starting point for this meat-and-potatoes approach is the humble pea or bean, but one developed using biological algorithms and precision breeding to create tasty, nutritious and high-protein products. To that end London-based Synthesis has just led a $35-million financing round for Israeli startup Equinom, which identifies non-genetically modified seed varieties that don’t require the processing and additives that have long blighted meat alternatives.

“Genetic diversity provides a tremendous amount of solutions,” Gil Shalev, Equinom’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said in an interview. “When you start with high quality beans, immediately you are starting to eliminate all the bad processing requirements that the industry developed over many years to overcome bad quality seeds, to create high quality ingredients.”

The funding round, which includes investors such as Bunge Ltd., BayWa and CPT Capital, brings Equinom’s total financing to more than $71 million. The money will be used to commercialize and develop the company’s technology platform. It’s already working with multinational processing ingredient suppliers that will sell its proteins to food companies.

Equinom has just completed harvests in North America for both pea and soy and several companies are on track to add its ingredients into their food products by the end of next year. It also has active breeding programs for chickpea, fava bean, mung bean and cow pea, which will be available for sales in two years, Shalev said. 

“You start with a bean that has protein and quality levels that’s required,” he said. “And then you also have the ability to bring diversity into the food system, unlike the way the supply chain is established today.”

Also read | Shiitake, tempeh and a meaty vegetable meal


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