Barcelona’s food tech startup Heura has unveiled its new patent-pending technology aimed at producing meat substitutes without the long and sometimes unpleasant ingredients list. The company says it is the first scalable technology of its kind to add “superior” nutritional value to plant-based foods.
The data is crystal clear: if we are to have any chance of halting global warming, we need to revolutionize our food systems. About 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gases come from livestock farming.
Further, research has shown processed red meat as a carcinogen. This means that what we choose to put on our plate matters, for the health of both the collective and the individual.
However, initial enthusiasm for vegan meat alternatives has waned somewhat, with shares in one of the most similarly named alternatives, Beyond Meat, losing more than 60% of their value in the past year alone.
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Often companies behind the fake meat revolution are criticized for relying too much on artificial additives, with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients. In addition, the ultra-processed products are often devoid of essential nutrients.
“I think the category’s worst enemy is bad products,” said Heura’s co-founder Marc Coloma. “We see that there is a kind of gold rush in this category where many products have been brought to market super fast without meeting consumer expectations.”
Patent pending thermomechanical technology
Most approaches to making vegan meat substitutes are trial and error. Manufacturers are experimenting with different blends of binders and additives and vegetable proteins to see what works.
Enter Heura’s patent-pending technology. Thermomechanical engineering uses heat and mechanical energy to shape or change the properties of a material. This, says Heura, allows it to make plant-based meat substitutes with higher quality inputs and a shorter ingredient list.
— Heura Foods #FoodActivists (@HeuraFoods) April 25, 2023
We have not been able to find out the exact details about the actual breakthrough. However, during the launch of the project platform, called Good Rebel Tech, last year, the company’s Director of Science and Technology, Isabelle Férnandez, mention That,
“Instead of focusing on extracting and isolating proteins from legume seeds, we are exploring ways to harness the functionality of whole plants in their naturally occurring structures.”
For the time being, the focus is on products in the delicatessen, cheese and meat products. And as anyone who has ever eaten in Spain can attest, these are far more popular categories than the most substituting burger.
The company has already developed two products using the technology: a frankfurter-like sausage and ham slices, both made from soy protein. The frankfurters have a protein density of 72% and the “ham” 70%. Heura hopes to have both products on store shelves by the end of the fourth quarter of 2023.
List of ingredients for the frankfurter? Water, soy protein isolate, extra virgin olive oil, radish, carrot and bell pepper concentrate, lemon juice from concentrate and vitamin B12.
You may have noticed that, like so many fake meat products, it doesn’t contain coconut oil. This is thanks to another milestone achieved last year by Heura’s R&D department, where it succeeded in replacing the saturated fat alternative with a 100% olive oil-based analogue.
Successful equity crowdfunding
Heura Foods was founded in 2017, in a co-working office in the center of Barcelona. The first customer was a small, local company in the Poble-sec neighborhood. The startup has raised €36 million so far – including an equity crowdfunding campaign that raised €4 million in just 12 hours. In 2022, the company achieved a turnover of €31.4 million and in 2023 it grew by 44% in the first quarter compared to the same quarter the year before.
In addition, Heura has tripled its market share in Spain over the past three years and has agreements with retailer groups in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
Could owning a patent in an otherwise wild west low entry barrier for plant-based meat industry attract more investors to Heura’s business? We’ll enjoy a cruelty-free frankfurter (or two) while we wait to find out, thank you very much.