Currently, most plant-based burger brands use coconut oil – which is high in saturated fat – because they need a solid fat to make the burgers on an industrial scale. However, some of the fat and moisture can be lost during the cooking process.
Cubiq’s process involves the addition of water (up to 40%) and some clean label food-grade additives, some of which Montefeltro said were already on food labels in plant-based or regular processed meat products. The fat is then put through a “mechanical process” – which the company is not outlining in detail at this stage as it is exploring patents.
The resulting 'smart fat' is solid, with exciting functional properties, that’s lower in both saturated fat and total fat (owing to the addition of water) than current solid fats used in plant-based meats and other products requiring solid fats.
Cubiq Foods, which has developed a separate platform to produce EPA and DHA from fat tissue cultured from poultry stem cells, says it can take the technology to harden the vegetable oils from the lab-scale to the industrial scale, CEO Andrés Montefeltro told FoodNavigator-USA.
“People have been working on this technology in academic environments for 15 years, and I am sure the big fat companies are starting to look at this, but no one has commercialized it and produced it on an industrial scale.
"We are currently at the scale of producing 20, 50 kilos of product and have got samples out in the marketplace and now we’re looking to set up a pilot plant with two tons a day of production. We’re also working with patent lawyers to protect our new improved process to prepare the Smart Fat."
The fat and water is retained in the burger as it is cooked
Aside from the option of reducing total and saturated fat on the label, companies Cubiq has been sampling the material with are most excited by the fat’s functional properties, he claimed.
“The fat and water is retained in the burger as it is cooked, which means you get a juicier burger with a superior taste [as fat is key to the taste of meat products]. The reduced saturated fat is a plus, but the improved flavor and juiciness is a plus. ”
Right now, the fat only works well in fresh/refrigerated products as the formation of ice crystals during the freezing process can destroy the structure of the fats (which can contain around 40% water), said Montefeltro. However, he is working on overcoming this challenge in new iterations of the product.
The initial focus is on meat and plant-based meat, but the fats could potentially have interesting applications in vegan cheese, ice cream and a wide range of other products where solid fats are used, he said.