By now, many people have embraced the plant-based meat movement. High-protein plants, such as soybeans, are common ingredients, but it’s unclear how much of the nutrient makes it into human cells. in ACP’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers report that proteins in a model vegetable substitute were not as accessible to cells as those from meat. The team says this knowledge could eventually be used to develop healthier products.
Consumers can now buy almost any type of alternative meat, from ground beef to fish fingers. To mimic the look and texture of the real thing, plants are dried to a powder and mixed with spices. Then the mixtures are typically heated, moistened and processed through an extruder. These products are often considered healthier than animal meats because the plants used to make them are high in protein and low in unwanted fats. However, lab tests have shown that proteins in substitutes do not break down into peptides as well as those in meat. Osvaldo Campanella, Da Chen and colleagues wanted to take it a step further and see if human cells can absorb comparable amounts of peptides from a model meat alternative as from a piece of chicken.
Using the extrusion process, the researchers created a model meat alternative made from soy and wheat gluten. When cut open, the material had long stringy pieces inside, just like chicken. Cooked bits of the substitute and chicken meat were then ground up and broken down with an enzyme that humans use to digest food. In vitro tests showed that meat replacement peptides were less soluble in water than chicken ones, nor were they as well absorbed by human cells. With this new insight, the researchers say the next step is to identify other ingredients that could help boost the absorption of peptides from plant-based meat substitutes.
American Chemical Society
Chen, D., et al. (2022) Characterization and cellular uptake of peptides derived from in vitro digestion of meat analogs produced by a sustainable extrusion process. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.2c01711.