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Color Innovations in Plant-Based Meats: Enhancing Visual Appeal

submitted on 25 November 2023 by

Feasting with our eyes: the importance of appearance

Let's face it, folks. We're a shallow bunch. When it comes to chowing down, the first thing we notice about our grub isn't the delicious aroma wafting through the air, nor is it the delightful crunch of our first bite – it's the visual appeal. As they say, you eat with your eyes first. A meal can taste like heaven on a plate, but if it looks like something the cat dragged in, well, we'll be hesitant to dig in.So, when we enter the brave new world of plant-based meats, it's important to get the looks right. Sure, we want our meat substitutes to taste like the real deal, but we also need them to look the part. Imagine sinking your teeth into a juicy burger patty, only to find it's the color of moss (or worse, Pepto-Bismol). Not so appetizing, eh?

Color me convinced: the science behind color in food

You might be thinking, "Hey, as long as it tastes good, who cares what it looks like?" While that's a lovely sentiment, science disagrees. Research has shown that our perception of flavor is heavily influenced by the visual presentation of our food, so much so that we'll actually taste things differently based on their color.Take, for example, the classic red velvet cake. It's delicious, sure, but did you know that it's just chocolate cake with red food coloring? That's right, my friends. We've been duped by our own brains, tricked into thinking that this crimson confection is something special just because of its vibrant hue. If our brains can deceive us into falling in love with a cake that's lying about its flavor, just imagine the power of color when it comes to something as controversial as plant-based meats.

Plant-based meat: the color conundrum

Now that we've established the importance of visual appeal in our culinary adventures, let's dive into the world of plant-based meats and the colorful challenges they present. You see, replicating the taste and texture of meat is no small feat (it's no coincidence that we've yet to see a carrot that tastes like filet mignon). However, creating a plant-based meat that looks like its animal-based counterpart is an entirely different beast (pun very much intended).Real meat has a variety of colors, textures, and even marbling that can be difficult to recreate using plants. Think about the last steak you saw – the deep red of raw meat, the mouthwatering brown of a perfectly seared crust, the glistening of fat as it renders down. How on Earth do you create that masterpiece with plants and some scientific ingenuity?

Color me plant-based: innovations in meatless meat hues

Fear not, dear carnivores and veggie enthusiasts alike! The wizards of food science have been hard at work, concocting all manner of innovative methods to give plant-based meats the convincing coloration they need to pass muster. Here are just a few of the ways they're bringing some meaty visuals to your plate:
  • Natural colorants: From beet juice to spirulina, food scientists are harnessing the power of Mother Nature to give plant-based meats a realistic hue. These wholesome ingredients not only provide the desired colors but also come with the added bonus of being all-natural, keeping your meal as clean and green as possible.

  • High-tech heme: You might have heard of the Impossible Burger, the plant-based patty that "bleeds" like real meat. The secret ingredient behind this bloody marvel is a molecule called heme. Found in both plants and animals (it's what gives blood its red color), heme can be produced via fermentation, creating a rich, meaty color that's eerily similar to the real deal.

  • Color-changing compounds: Another challenge in replicating meat's appearance is the color transformation it undergoes during cooking – from raw red to cooked brown. Thankfully, there are natural compounds out there that change color when exposed to heat, mimicking this process in plant-based meats. Who knew that chemistry could be so delicious?

Seeing (and tasting) is believing: the future of plant-based meats

With all these color innovations in the works, it's an exciting time to be a plant-based meat enthusiast. Will we ever reach a point where we can't tell the difference between a real burger and a plant-based one, just by looking at it? Only time will tell, my friends.But one thing is for sure – the future of plant-based meats is looking bright (and realistically meaty), and that's something we can all sink our teeth into.
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