Recent innovations in precision fermentation are allowing scientists to replicate, for example, “the exact fatty acid” that makes meat taste like meat, said Dr. Liz Specht, who oversees a research team focused on the future of alternative protein at the Good Food Institute. Experts say these developments will help close the gap between plant-based products and their animal-derived analogues, making them nearly indistinguishable in taste and texture.
“It’s a tool in the tool kit to get these plant-based products over those next few hurdles, from a sensory perspective and from a cost-reduction perspective,” she added. “This is very, very different than what was happening in the protein space, say, five years ago.”
These products, alongside lab-cultivated meat, could appeal to flexitarians or to occasional consumers of plant-based products who haven’t been sold on the taste so far, enabling more consumption of meat alternatives.
And that little bit could make all the difference, scientists say.
A recent study in Nature found that replacing just 20 percent of global beef consumption and other grazing livestock with “microbial proteins,” or those made from fermentation, could cut annual deforestation in half by 2050. (Whether the plant-based foods, many of which are highly processed, are healthier is subject to debate.)
“Replacing the milk, meat and, one day, even the eggs that we eat would massively take pressure off the planet,” Mr. Monbiot said. “It could also develop a whole new cuisine that we can’t even imagine at the moment. Just as the first farmers to capture a wild cow weren’t thinking about Camembert.”
Enthusiasm for this innovation abounds. (“Precision fermentation is the most important environmental technology humanity has ever developed,” Mr. Monbiot said. “We would be idiots to turn our back on it.”)