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joesomebody
07-01-2010, 03:07 PM
Monday, Jun. 14, 2010

Tastes Like Chicken: The Quest for Fake Meat

By John Cloud

The desire to eat meat has posed an ethical question ever since humans achieved reliable crop production: Do we really need to kill animals to live? Today, the hunger for meat is also contributing to the climate-change catastrophe. The gases from all those chickens and pigs and cows, and from the manure lagoons that big farms create, are playing a part in global warming. So the idea of fake meat has never been more alluring. What if you could cut into a juicy chicken breast that wasn't chicken at all but rather some indistinguishable imitation made harmlessly from plant life?

This spring, scientists at the University of Missouri announced that after more than a decade of research, they had created the first soy product that not only can be flavored to taste like chicken but also breaks apart in your mouth the way chicken does: not too soft, not too hard, but with that ineffable chew of real flesh. When you pull apart the Missouri invention, it disjoins the way chicken does, with a few random strands of "meat" hanging loosely. (Watch TIME's video "Turning Powder Into Poultry.")

The vegetarian world is buzzing about the breakthrough in Missouri. "Along with ham, chicken has always been the holy grail," says Seth Tibbott, 59, the creator of Tofurky and the dean of soy-meat inventors. Tibbott's Oregon-based Turtle Island Foods has become famous for its surprisingly full-flavored fake turkey. But Tibbott says efforts to create a credible fake chicken have foundered because of chicken's unique lean texture and its delicate flavor. ("Turkey has a gamier flavor," he says, "and it's easier to match stronger flavors.")

Like his competitors, Tibbott is now investigating whether to buy the Missouri product. A meat analogue that not only looks like chicken but also works in your mouth like chicken has great market potential. According to the Soyfoods Association of North America, a Washington-based trade group, annual sales of soy products totaled $4.1 billion in 2008, up from $300 million in 1992. But $4.1 billion is, to use a food metaphor, just peanuts. Americans spend something like half a trillion dollars on real meat every year. A meaty-tasting alternative that could capture even a tenth of this market would make someone very rich. The University of Missouri team may finally have cracked the code.

For several years, Fu-Hung Hsieh a biological-engineering professor who, at his previous job at Quaker, figured out how to use glycerin to soften the raisins in the company's granola had wondered how to solve the fake-chicken problem. The answer was certainly going to be a combination of soy, wheat gluten, oil and water the building blocks of most fake meats, including Tofurky. But in what combination? And how would you get it to transform from a congealed goo into a believable simulacrum of chicken? Hsieh, a slight man who was born in Taiwan and educated at Syracuse, worked on the problem in a concrete-floored lab with an unlikely partner, Harold Huff, a tall and gruff native Missourian who runs the mechanical parts of Hsieh's lab. (See pictures of what makes you eat more food.)

What has confounded fake-meat producers for years is the texture problem. Before an animal is killed, its flesh essentially marinates, for all the years that the animal lives, in the rich biological stew that we call blood: a fecund bath of oxygen, hormones, sugars and plasma. Vegan foods like tofu, tempeh (fermented soy) and seitan (wheat gluten) don't have the benefit of sloshing around in something so complex as blood before they go onto your plate. So how do you create fleshy, muscley texture without blood?

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It's at once harder and easier than it sounds. First, you take a dry mixture of soy-protein powder and wheat flour, add water and dump it into an industrial extruder, which is essentially a gigantic food processor. (You have to climb a ladder to get to the hole at the top.) At first, the mixture looks like cake batter. But as it's run through the gears of the extruder and heated to precisely 346F (175C), the batter firms up and forms complex striations. It took Hsieh and Huff many years to get the temperature right, and it also took years to discover how to cool the soy cake very quickly, before it could melt. (See the top 10 food trends.)

All this processing raises a question: Will vegans and other gastronomic purists buy a product that is vegetarian but highly processed? Also, what does it taste like?

On the day I visited their lab, Hsieh and Huff had arrived early along with some of the university's culinary students. The scientists and the students worked together to create three dishes: a barbecue sandwich, a tarragon "chicken" salad and a fajita. The seasoning in all three dishes was unbalanced, and none were very good. But the way the meat broke across my teeth felt exactly how boneless chicken breast does. It was slightly fibrous but not fatty. The soy wasn't mashed together as in a veggie burger; rather, it was more idiosyncratic, uneven, al dente in other words, meatlike.

Public-health types have long yearned for a credible soy meat because soy is a great source of protein that has significantly less fat and cholesterol than animal meat. But while Missouri's fake chicken has the right consistency, it still has to be flavored and heavily salted to taste like meat. That's why the next green-food frontier is real meat grown in vitro actual flesh that is sliced away not from a living animal but a petri dish and which offers all the taste with none of the livestock slaughtering.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has offered a $1 million prize to anyone who can bring in vitro chicken meat to market by 2012. As with so much of what PETA does, it is largely a publicity stunt: according to Jason Matheny, a vegetarian who runs a venture-capital firm called New Harvest, in vitro meat is "at least five or 10 years away." Meantime, Tibbott and other soy proponents, including the University of Missouri scientists, believe they can bridge the gap by offering realistic fake meats. Who knows? Maybe one day you'll order a chicken fajita at Chili's that is made with soy. You almost certainly won't notice the difference, but the planet will.




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ArrowheadHawk
07-01-2010, 03:26 PM
Pretty cool article. The thread title blows though.

kepp
07-01-2010, 03:27 PM
Yeah...but does it have clown shoes?

Frazod
07-01-2010, 03:28 PM
Pretty cool article. The thread title blows though.

I kind of like it. :D

I can do without all the global warming horseshit in the first paragraph, though.

|Zach|
07-01-2010, 03:31 PM
Wacky shit.

ArrowheadHawk
07-01-2010, 03:33 PM
Have they figured out how to make a steak?

irishjayhawk
07-01-2010, 03:35 PM
I kind of like it. :D

I can do without all the global warming horseshit in the first paragraph, though.

I know, pesky facts and all. :)

Frazod
07-01-2010, 03:36 PM
I know, pesky facts and all. :)

Yes, it is true, you worship a fake chicken. :D

luv
07-01-2010, 03:38 PM
Have they figured out how to make a steak?

Medium rare.

gblowfish
07-01-2010, 03:40 PM
Mizzou has always know what tastes like Chicken.

SnakeXJones
07-01-2010, 03:46 PM
so does that mean they found the secret recipe?

gblowfish
07-01-2010, 03:57 PM
Look for Synthetic Chicken on your grocer's shelves,
right next to the Canned Unicorn...

http://www.thinkgeek.com/stuff/41/unicorn-meat.shtml

mikey23545
07-01-2010, 04:02 PM
I'd like to see them make syntha-chicken out of ground-up environmentalists.

|Zach|
07-01-2010, 04:06 PM
I'd like to see them make syntha-chicken out of ground-up environmentalists.

You're so bad ass.

Stewie
07-01-2010, 04:10 PM
so does that mean they found the secret recipe?

They must have figured out the 11 herbs and spices. I certainly hope it wasn't just making one bland food (tofu) taste like another bland food (chicken).

Demonpenz
07-01-2010, 04:34 PM
Sounds like they are just winging it.

Pants
07-01-2010, 04:37 PM
You're so bad ass.

ROFL

gblowfish
07-01-2010, 04:55 PM
Mizzou's Bio-Science Dept is Blowing Up!
http://tinyurl.com/29ann54

HemiEd
07-01-2010, 05:19 PM
Pretty cool article. The thread title blows though.

Maybe if Mizzou did the same, they might win something, anything. Bowling, baseball, anything.

Silock
07-01-2010, 05:21 PM
Made from soy? Fuck that. I'd rather not spike my estrogen.

Mr. Laz
07-01-2010, 05:26 PM
Mizzou and Chicken have always had a close relationship ... so much so that now they are apparently trying to invent a fake chicken so they don't have to <strike>be</strike> err eat a real one. :D

Gonzo
07-01-2010, 05:29 PM
Maybe if Mizzou did the same, they might win something, anything. Bowling, baseball, anything.

The butthurt is strong in this one...
Posted via Mobile Device

SnakeXJones
07-01-2010, 05:30 PM
I actually rather kill my own chicken and eat it than some fake ass shit I dunno what is in it

Mr. Laz
07-01-2010, 07:04 PM
I actually rather choke my own chicken and eat it than some fake ass shit I dunno what is in it

TMI

Mr. Laz
07-01-2010, 07:05 PM
The butthurt is strong in this one...
Posted via Mobile Device
The butt is stinky in this one...

Saulbadguy
07-01-2010, 09:52 PM
Fucking hicks.

Reerun_KC
07-01-2010, 10:08 PM
Yes, it is true, you worship a fake chicken. :D

Fail.. I dont worship the fake chicken you obsess over.... I worship the trophy case with NC's and BCS win's....