Heme 2.0: Spirulina Extract Challenges Impossible Foods’ “Bleeding” Hero Ingredient in Plant Patties
In an accidental discovery, Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS) has figured out a way to isolate spirulina’s heme compound while studying a process to make the color purple using the marine algae. The result is a hero solution that mimics the smell, taste, and grilling functionalities of the “bleeding” component in popular plant-based meats – now offered as an alternative to genetically modified yeast-based heme.
BYAS is currently upscaling its production and will be working with a small number of innovative companies across the world who are producing breakthrough plant-based food products including “whole-cut” steaks and fish or other seafood. “There are some other heme analogs that are largely experimental and none of them can currently be produced at sufficient volume to supply the global market,” says Leonard Lerer, founder, and CEO of BYAS. “The BYAS heme analog is produced from organic spirulina and is non-GMO. The heme analog was discovered during our food colorant R&D where we noticed that one of our extracts had a strong ‘meaty odor’.”
As Impossible Foods’ heme is not on the market as a standalone ingredient, BYAS has targets to become a large-scale supplier to other producers seeking to branch out selections along the dynamic plant-based aisle.
The best known plant-based heme analog on the market is leghemoglobin, produced by Impossible Foods through an insertion of DNA from soy plants into genetically engineered yeast. This yeast is fermented – in a similar way beer is made – to produce heme.
Besides conferring natural umami and meaty taste, the BYAS algal heme analog browns when heated and can be used to give plant-based meat a gradation of color when grilled similar to animal-based meat. “Of particular interest from a sustainability perspective is the fact that the BYAS heme analog can be combined with other BYAS extracts – such as our F602 spirulina, chlorella, wheatgrass, and mushroom extract – to improve the organoleptic properties of plant-based meat,” notes Lerer. “This makes it possible to reduce our dependence on soy and pea concentrates and isolates, opening the door to using more sustainable plant biomass and protein sources including oats and mycelia (mushrooms).” Despite a lot of interest and investment, plant-based meat still has a long way to go before it becomes an economically priced staple for billions of people, asserts Lerer. “We need to reduce the pressure that animal-based meat places on our environment.