Protein transitions: fermentation, cultivated meat and structured meat

This article is written by Fernanda Condi de Godoi, Chemical Engineer, PhD.

The 2020 World Population Data Sheet projects that the world population will increase from 7.8 billion in 2020 to 9.9 billion by 20501. Not only the global population growth but the rising understanding of the inefficiency in protein conversion through livestock meat production2 drives the transition from animal to plant-based protein sources.

Entrepreneurs around the globe are now innovating in different types of trustworthy and sustainable plant-based protein sources and products. Three major technological groups can be identified: (1) fermentation, (2) cultivated meat and (3) structured meat. These technological approaches are different; however, they can be combined synergistically to produce plant-based products. Quorn, founded in 1985, uses biomass fermentation to manufacture mycoprotein which is further processed by shear and freezing to achieve chicken texture. Planetarians use traditional solid-state fermentation followed by wet-extrusion to produce Animal-Free MeatTM steak.


Fermentation has long been used to produce many food ingredients like enzymes and vitamins. However, the exploration of fermentation’s innovative potential to produce plant-based proteins has been only recently unveiled. GFI segmented the industrial use of fermentation into 3 groups: (1) traditional fermentation, (2) biomass fermentation and (3) precision fermentation3.

Market segmentation[3]
Traditional fermentationThe technology is used to tailor the texture and flavor of plant-based ingredients.
Examples: Planetarians, Prime Roots
Biomass fermentationLeverages fast growth and high protein content of many microorganisms to effectively generate large amounts of protein.
Examples: Quorn, The Protein Brewery
Precision fermentationInvolves the concept of “cell factories” where microbial hosts are programmed to manufacturing functional substances which usually require high purity, tunned organoleptic properties or enhancing the functional characteristics of the resulting plant-based proteins or cultivated meat.
Examples: Perfect Day, Remilk

Grounds & Meatballs. Source: Quorn

Cultivated meat or “clean meat”

The use of animal cells to produce cultivated meat or “clean meat” makes the resulting three-dimensional product with sensory profile identical to traditional meat. According to GFI (Good Food Institute), it cannot be considered an imitation or synthetic meat because the referred cultivated meat is the actual animal meat grown outside an animal4. Cultivated meat production entails many biological processes concerning muscle tissue growth in vivo which are challenging to be replicated in an industrial scale5. Nevertheless, the entrepreneurial investment on cultivated meat continues accelerated. By the end of 2019, a total of 55 cultivated meat and seafood startups were announced4.

Examples: Innocent meat, SuperMeat

SuperMeat’s chicken burger. Source: SuperMeat

Structured meat

The fast-evolving plant-based food market ignites the development of technologies that can increase the functionality of essential plant-based constituents. A broad range of high shearing devices (operating at high or low moisture levels) has been used to create novel structured matrices resembling the textural functionality of meat67. One of the key-elements relies on understanding the deformation of plant-based mixtures rich in proteins when exposed to shear stresses. Kuleana developed fish-free tuna made of seawater, algae, beetroot, pea protein and iron from fermented koji8.

Considered a low-shear device, extrusion-based 3D printers can also be used to produce plant-based meat. Companies like Novameat uses plant proteins as raw-material to 3D print plant-based meat that imitates the taste and mouthfeel of pork and beef. In most cases, printable foods should present paste-like consistency that can be tuned regarding texture and nutritional value9. The texture design of the plant-based meat is controlled by modelling the internal structure of the plant-based meat (fiber formation and/or infill density). The creation of nutritional pattern and/or flavor, however, is achieved by using a multi-nozzle printer under controlled conditions that can prevent the degradation of nutrients and flavors.


1.        IISD. World Population to Reach 9.9 Billion by 2050. (2020). Available at:

2.        Choudhury, D., Singh, S., Seah, J. S. H., Yeo, D. C. L. & Tan, L. P. Commercialization of Plant-Based Meat Alternatives. Trends Plant Sci. 25, 1055–1058 (2020).

3.        Specht, L. & Crosser, N. State of the Industry Report Fermentation: An Introduction to a Pillar of the Alternative Protein Industry. Good Food Inst. 58, 4–5 (2019).

4.        Hanga, M. P., Hewitt, C. J., Nienow, A. & Wall, I. Cultivated Meat. 0–2 (2019).

5.        Warner, R. D. Review: Analysis of the process and drivers for cellular meat production. Animal 13, 3041–3058 (2019).

6.        Krintiras, G. A., Göbel, J., van der Goot, A. J. & Stefanidis, G. D. Production of structured soy-based meat analogues using simple shear and heat in a Couette Cell. J. Food Eng. 160, 34–41 (2015).

7.        Pietsch, V. L., Werner, R., Karbstein, H. P. & Emin, M. A. High moisture extrusion of wheat gluten: Relationship between process parameters, protein polymerization, and final product characteristics. J. Food Eng. 259, 3–11 (2019).

8.        Settembre, J. Beyond Meat of sushi hooks onto $13.7 billion plant-based market. Fox Business (2020). Available at: (Accessed: 17th April 2021)

9.        Godoi, F. C., Bhandari, B. R., Prakash, S. & Zhang, M. Chapter 1 – An Introduction to the Principles of 3D Food Printing. in (eds. Godoi, F. C., Bhandari, B. R., Prakash, S. & Zhang, M. B. T.-F. of 3D F. P. and A.) 1–18 (Academic Press, 2019). doi:

How to cite this article:

Godoi, FC 2021, “Protein transitions: fermentation, cultivated meat and structured meat”, Protein Transition Conference, 17 April, Read article.

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