WAGENINGEN - Now in 2038, the taste and texture of meat substitutes can no longer be distinguished from natural meat. What’s more, artificial meat is much more sustainable than its natural counterpart. Consequently, the market share of artificial meat has now passed the 85% mark according to the latest figures from Statistics Netherlands. As a result of this, the Netherlands not only achieves its climate goals but the manure problem has also been solved at last, after 60 years of intensive livestock farming.
The traditional Dutch meal has always contained a generous proportion of animal protein, about two-thirds more protein than is necessary. People needed to eat less meat and more vegetable-based products to increase the sustainability of our diet. Otherwise, our diet combined with the population growth would have led to a considerable increase in CO2 emissions’, says Atze Jan van der Goot, Emeritus Professor of Sustainable Protein Structuring at Wageningen University & Research, and famous for the invention of the first 100% plant-based steak in the world. ‘To tempt the traditional meat eater to consume less meat, we wanted to make products that were identical to meat in terms of taste and structure.’
A plant-based hamburger with fat structures was a superb initial development. In 2024, the American company Impossible Foods added the red-pink colour and iron-like taste of meat with a sort of “plant blood” that contained modified haem-iron molecules. Producing the fibre-like types of meat in which the fibre structure is visible over a longer length proved to be a more difficult challenge to overcome. This prevented a serious market penetration of sustainable plant-based meat. Van der Goot, who 20 years ago led the public-
private research programme Plant Meat Matters, further developed the holy grail of the meat substitute, the plant-based steak, into a marketable product. ‘Plant-based meat with a superb and adjustable fibre structure is now produced on a large scale using our technology. The technique is suitable for imitating many different types of meat.’ ‘The development actually started 30 years ago’, remembers Van der Goot. ‘Out of pure scientific curiosity we wanted to make a rheometer that could measure the behaviour of concentrated biopolymer mixtures in an extruder. During this research, we discovered that, under certain conditions, the device is very suitable for making milk protein fibres. We translated that capability to plant proteins and did the first scaling up to an experimental piece of plant-based beef.’
When you bite into the meat, you do not break any long molecules, as these are far too small. You chop the different phases up, namely one protein phase into a different protein phase. For example, we used a gluten phase and a soya isolate phase that in our machine were aligned into a structure that is similar to meat fibres when you bite on it.’ ‘Now artificial meat production has become as simple as baking bread. You take Dutch beans that have been bred for the right composition and characteristics, grind these, mix them with water and then place them in a device that produces a plant-based steak from the mixture.’
Not only the plant-based meat factory makes use of this technology. Almost every butcher or restaurant now has a machine that can convert these beans, peas and wheat into fresh, tasty and juicy beef steaks and other types of meat. The number of cattle for meat consumption has now fallen by 90% compared to the benchmark year of 2018. That is just enough to provide for a limited consumption of milk.
Van der Goot: ‘Back then, our major focus was the CO2 problem, but eutrophication due to nitrogen deposition was certainly no less of a problem. And that was all related to large-scale meat production and the import of protein-rich animal feed. Eating less animal meat has proven to be the solution for many major issues that the Netherlands faced.’ ↙