Photo: Abby Dernburg
Whether you’re a fan of it or appalled by the idea, it’s become clear that plant-based meats are one of the key food trends for 2017 and for years to come. Highly innovative food tech companies have created plenty of plant-based meat products that are now beginning to mimic their real counterparts, like Impossible Foods’ plant-based bleeding burger, or New Wave Foods’ revolutionary vegan shrimp.
As the industry moves to developing new plant-based meats, they’re turning to a new, interested, and growing source of talent to make it possible: college students. Specifically, UC Berkeley students.
The Good Food Institute, a major advocate of plant-based and alternative meat products for the betterment of the world, has teamed up with UC Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SCET) to develop a Challenge Lab course and a competition centered around the development of plant-based proteins.
The Challenge Lab course is entitled “Innovative and Sustainable Plant-Based Protein: How to Produce More and Better Plant-based Meat,” and lasts all semester. It’s designed for teams of students of any educational background to create the next wave of plant-based foods in a delicious, affordable, and sustainable capacity.
Third-year nutrition student Hailey Zhou, who is in the course, told Foodbeast that teams in class aim to “develop a product (line) and a business model to accelerate the growth and innovation of this market segment, and hopefully create some impactful product to consumer choices taking a different look at plant protein sourcing and the production process.”
Throughout the semester, the class meets in four hours of lecture and eight hours of group work each week to develop their plant-based concepts, leading up to a massive pitch competition in front of plant-based meat experts with a $5,000 cash prize.
Additionally, a special competition course dedicated to the development of new plant-based seafood products will also be run by the same team of the Good Food Institute and SCET will begin March 10th. This “Innovation Collider” course specifically focuses on using proteins beyond pea or soy protein to develop new plant-based seafoods, and can be taken for a couple of semester credits. Undergrad and graduate students are invited to apply to compete by March 1st, and are also eligible for another $5,000 cash prize.
Students in the course and competition are both educated on current meat analogs in the industry, but challenged to use innovative protein sources and raw materials that aren’t heavily used to develop the latest plant-based meats and seafood. Zhou’s team, for example, is exploring the potential of underused plant like microalgae, kelp, or ancient grains such as millet to develop their products. Zhou made it clear though that plant proteins weren’t the only source for their innovation:
“Not only can we contribute to a more balanced agriculture and cultivation through sourcing, we can also look into upcycling food/ag waste or by products, and look at processes from fermentation to extrusion to explore potential to unlock nutrients and revive the discarded food.”
These ideas and many more will be necessary to develop the solutions expected out of these courses, but the students are up to the challenge. They want to not just create the next plant-based burger, but have an idea on how to create everything from vegan “scallops” to vegan “chicken.”
It will definitely be interesting to see what amazing plant-based products come out of these Berkeley courses — and who comes away with the cash prizes.
Those prizewinners could be the next big CEOs or trendsetters in the future of plant-based meat — and of sustainable food.