Smart Fermentation: From Beer to Meat
Mankind has known for thousands of years that single cells are mighty food factories.
Humans have been implementing fermentation since the dawn of time. Beer-making, for example, goes back about 5,000 years!
Fermentation has been the cornerstone of human civilization for millennia and has helped produce some of the tastiest and most digestible foods in our pantries today.
FROM RELIC OF YESTERYEAR TO MASSIVE FOOD TREND
Today, though, fermentation does not solely exist to preserve food. It’s the new buzzword in food tech.
As we begin to gain a better understanding of the human microbiome, we’re starting to see more people drink apple cider vinegar, take probiotic pills, make home-made hot sauce, and do even more to get their daily dose of healthy bacteria.
Do you have a jar of kimchi in your fridge? Do you like yogurt for breakfast? Are you a pickle lover? Miso? Fish sauce? Kombucha? Sauerkraut? Tempeh?
Congrats, you too are into fermentation!
Long before today's current vegan enthusiasm, centuries ago, people were still producing healthy sources of protein. For example, the origin of Tempeh's fermentation process dates back to over 200 years ago!
With these facts in mind, we can ascertain that the future of fermentation is looking far more complex than kimchi or kombucha.
Rather, it’s a process increasingly used by food companies to answer a ballooning demand for natural ingredients that are hard to come by.
Instead of sourcing these ingredients from nature, food scientists are creating them through an industrial fermentation method--like brewing your favorite beer.
FROM BEER TO MEAT
We must first understand what fermentation is and why it matters.
Most of us know fermentation as the process that turns a yucky mix of grain, yeast, and water into popular beverages like beer.
More technically speaking, fermentation is a metabolic process that produces chemical changes in organic substrates through the action of enzymes.
In short, you take a substance, add in something that it reacts with, and voilà, you have a new substance.
For instance, yeast is used to create alcohol from carbohydrates in grains or grapes. Likewise, bacteria can be used to produce yogurt and other fermented dairy products like kefir, cheeses, and sour cream.
Nowadays, several of the most heavily funded, buzz-generating companies in the food space are applying fermentation in a whole new way.
MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE
Essentially, scientists identify the desired genes in a plant or animal and insert them into a host, in this case, yeast, which is then fed sugars and nutrients to stimulate fermentation. Then, the yeast and its genes are filtered off and the desired final ingredient is purified out of the remaining broth.
Fermentation, in this example, offers a way to make ingredients without relying on an inconsistent supply chain.
For example, at startup Perfect Day, the company is using fermentation to make cow’s milk without cows. They 3D print the DNA sequence of a cow and insert it into a specific location of yeast (obtained from the U.S. Department of Agriculture). The yeast ferments sugar to make real milk proteins, which are then combined with plant-based fats and nutrients to create milk that is lactose-free.
Unlike plant-based alternatives, Perfect Day’s milk performs just like the stuff that comes from cows when making products like cheese and yogurt, since both have identical chemical compositions.
They use fermentation to make the essential ingredient in their plant-based products: heme, or leghemoglobin, the molecule that makes meat taste like meat.
Heme is in virtually all the food we eat and it’s particularly abundant in animal muscle. It’s the abundance of heme that makes meat (both from animals and Impossible Foods’ meat from plants) uniquely delicious and craveable.
Iron-rich, beet-colored heme is found in the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants. But, Impossible Foods chose to make it via fermentation instead because it’s more economically feasible and environmentally friendly.
During their research process, Impossible Foods realized they were releasing carbon into the atmosphere--an unintended consequence that countered their mission of creating a sustainable product.
Now, through the process of fermentation, they’re able to transfer genes into the soybean plant directly to the yeast, grow the yeast, and finally isolate the heme protein from the resulting broth--a far more sustainable solution.
Producing the Impossible Burger uses 75% less water, generates about 87% fewer greenhouses gases, and requires around 95% less land than conventional ground beef from cows.
THE IMPOSSIBLE FOODS STRATEGY
Impossible Foods has effectively understood the power that their innovation holds.
They've filed for patents and now hold 10 granted US patents, creating a rock-solid defense.
A quick survey of three of these patents shows their fundamental strategy in innovation, approach, and methods.
First of all, with patent US9833768 they’ve patented the best approach to separate the desired proteins from the undesirable leftovers.
Second, with US9808029 they protect their methods and compositions for making their product tasty--making the beef-associated aroma and flavor.
And last but not least, with US9938327 they’ve patented the DNA constructs and methods to genetically engineer (super-power) yeast to make the desired proteins much more efficient.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
In the food and biotech industry, it means meat factories of the future might look like breweries.
In a more dramatic sense, it means we might be drinking protein-packed cockroach milk and eating lab-grown meat.
But, on a larger scale, it means that “clean meat” and plant-based alternatives can help global warming, ecological problems, and obesity.
For Impossible Foods, it means they’ve crafted their strategy flawlessly. They’ve successfully protected their competitive advantage with patents!
It means they’ve potentially blocked competitors from the market.
For food tech and biotech companies and startups, it means, you should seriously consider investing in patents and intellectual property.
Protect your business, protect your ideas, protect your innovation. The competition out there is fierce.
At KISSPatent we know biotech very well. We can help determine if your idea is patentable and help you throughout the entire process.
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