Lean meat, rich taste

Meatless uses seaweed as a meat substitute and flavour enhancer

The best meatballs aren't made using granny's recipe any more. Meatballs added with plant-based ingredients are healthier and even tastier, as Dutch firm Meatless has shown. The company has achieved global success with a meat substitute based on seaweed.

Die-hard meat eaters agree – there's nothing like real meat. When it comes to taste, texture and succulence, meat will come out on top over a meat substitute every time. And yet several tests have proven that some meat products do actually taste better when added with Meatless' vegetable proteins. In a blind taste test, a Meatless meatball scored higher than meatballs made out of pure beef. "Taste is a complicated matter and can be influenced by emotion," says Jos Hugense, CEO of Meatless. "That's why we always blindfold our test participants."

Meatless is a supplier to both the vegetarian and the meat industry. The company supplies ingredients for vegetarian products, but specialises in improving a range of meat products including meatballs, burgers, chicken and fish. Hugense continues: "It's really tricky to develop a plant-based product that tastes and feels exactly like meat. After extensive experimenting, we've learned to recreate the perceived taste of animal fat perfectly."

Better for the environment

Consumers are increasingly taking health and the environment into consideration when choosing what to eat. But Jos Hugense knows that taste is ultimately the decisive factor. "Leaner meat is associated with less taste and a dry texture. The problem with many plant-based additives is that they lose their moisture during cooking, which dries the product out. Our product tastes better and is more resilient to heat than our competitors' products. Meatless burgers don't lose their moisture during cooking, which keeps them nice and juicy. This helps us to make tasty meat products with an extremely low fat content."

Meatless is seeing significant growth year on year and now supplies plant-based ingredients to meat processors around the world. The reason behind the growth is a combination of health, sustainability and taste. Meatless meat products contain less fat and fewer calories. They are also more environmentally friendly than meat, with plant-based ingredients requiring much less water, land and energy than meat products do.

Turnaround

Interestingly enough, Jos Hugense used to work for a 'regular' meat processor for years. His family had been active in the meat sector for generations. But that all changed in 2006. The company where Hugense worked was hit hard by the outbreak of BSE, with various diseases and incidents resulting in major financial losses. "I was fed up with the series of setbacks and wanted to work towards finding an alternative," says Hugense. "At the time, low-fat dairy products were on the rise, while things in the meat industry largely remained the same. So I began to experiment, starting off with familiar vegetable materials such as soya. But the quality wasn't there. Thanks to a suggestion from someone in my network, I then turned to seaweed."

Seaweed

With seaweed, Hugense had hit the jackpot. He used the plant to develop a formula that is unique amongst suppliers in the food industry. After successful taste tests, he bought an old bakery in the town of Goes and set up the very first production line for Meatless. "At that point there wasn't any discussion about the sustainability of the meat sector yet," says Hugense. "The food industry does not focus on the long term. If you do look at the long term, then you realise we need to find solutions to health and environmental problems."

Meatless sees ample opportunity to develop its meat substitutes even further. The company is experimenting with new raw materials and has been extensively testing the addition of Meatless to turkey breast. Hugense has high expectations. "We have developed something that makes turkey breast, which is naturally dry, a lot tastier. This can go down well with the American market."

Confidence

Speaking about the collaboration with Rabobank, CEO of Meatless Jos Hugense: "Rabobank has been involved in the project from day one. The bank placed its confidence in our approach and has supported us well. The food and agriculture analyses at Rabobank are amongst the best in the world. Right now we are grateful to be able to benefit from the Rabodesk in Jakarta, Indonesia."

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