US alt-protein startup Tender Food — previously known as Boston Meats — has raised $12 million in seed funding for its “cotton-candy machine” technology that can be used in the production of both plant-based meat analogs and cell-cultured proteins.
Why it matters:
Alongside taste, texture is one of the biggest bottlenecks facing alt-protein producers in their quest to accurately mimic meat from slaughtered animals.
In addition to improving mouthfeel for the consumer, realistic textures help alt-meat products to cook more similarly to their conventional cousins.
The earliest generations of plant-based and cultivated meats were largely characterized by homogenous preparations such as burger patties and nuggets. Recently, however, a number of alt-protein companies have sought to produce more complex alt-protein products that represent more faithful imitations of formats such as steaks, chops, fillets, and other whole cuts.
Somerville, Massachusetts-based Tender is aiming to do this with its novel approach to creating fibrous masses reminiscent of animal muscle, using plant-based ingredients.
Notably, the startup’s technology could potentially be used by both the plant-based protein and the cultivated meat industries, according to Chantre.
“Tender creates protein fibers. These can be used to create the fibrous structure of muscle in plant-based products, but can also be used to create scaffolding for cell-cultured meat applications,” he said.
How it works:
Tender Food’s tech ‘spins’ plant-based protein at high speed, subjecting it to centrifugal force which draws it into threads that can then be used to imitate the muscle fibers in animal meat.
The company — which was itself ‘spun’ out from Harvard University in 2020 — has its origins in R&D conducted in the lab of co-founder Kit Parker.
Parker is Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and an associate faculty member at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, where Chantre had previously been a postdoctoral researcher.
“Product quality and price are the two most important drivers for consumer choice, and we believe any new approach should carefully consider these,” Chantre said. “Our technologies, which look roughly like cotton-candy machines, solve for both. They allow us to create unique product quality [with] a distinctive muscle-fiber texture. And they are fast.”
What they say:
Kevin Kit Parker, professor, Harvard University and co-founder, Tender Food
“The texture of real meat has been very difficult to imitate with current alternative meat texturizing solutions. Our technology’s ability to replicate the architecture and mechanics of animal muscle in a plant-based protein food item, while meeting the nutritional goals of protein consumption, should impact the industry significantly.”
Chris Sacca, co-founder, Lowercarbon Capital
“The roughly 6 billion carnivorous humans that eat meat drive about 15% of total carbon emissions. Cheers to the vegans, but to win over everybody else, you need steaks and chops made from plants that are just as tasty off the grill as what gets cleaved off a carcass”