‘A gamechanger for flavor in meat alternatives…’ Motif FoodWorks to launch heme-binding protein delivering ‘flavor and aroma of real meat’

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Motif FoodWorks: 'Our myoglobin is identical to the myoglobin you find in muscle tissue of cows...' Image credit: GettyImages-rocky89
Motif FoodWorks: 'Our myoglobin is identical to the myoglobin you find in muscle tissue of cows...' Image credit: GettyImages-rocky89

Related tags: Motif Foodworks, myoglobin, plant-based meat, Meat alternatives

Motif FoodWorks has submitted a GRAS notification for myoglobin, a heme-binding protein found in the muscle tissue of cows that Motif is expressing in a genetically engineered yeast strain. The protein – which the Boston-based firm reckons could be a gamechanger in the meat alternatives arena – delivers the “flavor and aroma of real meat."

A GRAS determination​ is currently pending with the FDA, and FoodNavigator-USA understands that the myoglobin preparation - supplied as a frozen liquid - is intended for use at inclusion rates of ≤2%, to mimic flavors associated with cooked ground meat in fresh or frozen plant-based burgers, patties, sausages, and other meat analogs.

The primary function of the myoglobin - dubbed 'Hemami​- in food is for flavor, but as it imparts a red color when exposed to oxygen, a color additive petition will also be submitted to the FDA in the coming weeks, a Motif spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Motif is in the process of developing its color additive petition to submit to the FDA within the next 30 days.  This would be a ‘new’ color additive because it has never been used as a direct colorant in food products.”

It can be labeled ‘myoglobin’ or ‘natural flavor’

As for labeling of the ingredient, which Motif​plans to launch later this year, the spokesperson said, “To establish how our ingredient would be labeled in the ingredient list, we have concluded that our product could be labeled ‘myoglobin,’ or ‘natural flavor,’ and we believe labeling will regulations support that."

Dr Mike Leonard, CTO, Motif FoodWorks landscape
Motif FoodWorks CTO Dr Mike Leonard: 'It has a unique flavor profile that provides a very authentic meaty experience....' Picture: Motif FoodWorks

Asked whether firms using it would require bioengineered food labels, as low level residues of native proteins from the fermentation organism are expected to be present in the myoglobin preparation, the spokesperson said: “Yes.

"We have been told that the product - because it has detectable DNA from the yeast used for fermentation - would require that customers using the ingredient would label under the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard ​[effective Jan 2022].

The production process uses a yeast that’s widely used for production of recombinant proteins and food enzymes, including Impossible Foods’ flagship ‘heme’ protein

So how is it made?

The ingredient is a liquid flavoring preparation containing myoglobin produced by fermentation from a modified strain of the yeast Pichia pastoris​ expressing the myoglobin gene from Bos taurus​ [ie. cows].

P.Pastoris​ is widely used for production of recombinant proteins and food enzymes, including Impossible Foods’ flagship ‘heme’ protein.

So is it safe?

Given that the myoglobin in Motif’s preparation is basically the same as bovine myoglobin, it has a long history of safe consumption in the human diet, explained Motif.

Motif CTO: ‘This is something that's being offered for the first time in the industry, so we're very excited’

Dairy-cow-GettyImages-stef-bennett
Dr Mike Leonard: "Our myoglobin is identical to the myoglobin you find in muscle tissue of cows and provides that meaty flavor, aroma, and that that sort of umami flavor experience you expect from real meat..." Picture: Gettyimages-Stef-Bennett

Motif CTO Dr Mike Leonard told us: “Our myoglobin is identical to the myoglobin you find in muscle tissue of cows and provides that meaty flavor, aroma, and that that sort of umami flavor experience you expect from real meat. And this is something that's being offered for the first time in the industry, so we're very excited.”

So how does Motif’s myoglobin compare to Impossible Foods’ 'heme,' which the company has said ‘makes meat taste like meat’?

“It's a different protein,” ​said Leonard. “The operative property is that it binds iron, and brings all the benefits from a sensory standpoint that come with that. It has a unique flavor profile that provides a very authentic meaty experience.”

Asked how confident he was that the FDA would have no questions/objections to the GRAS determination, he said: “As you can imagine we've had a significant level of pre-consultation with FDA before submitting, so we were clear on what they expected, but it's the same protein you find in muscle tissue of cows.”

'A very authentic meaty experience...'

The ingredient has been tested with consumers in recent months with exciting results, said Leonard.

The feedback we've received has been really tremendous; we're a b2b company but we go all the way to finished product design, because that's the best way to showcase how our technology really provides a benefit for consumers.

“So we’ve run four events. The first was a traditional focus group that we ran in Ohio back in March. We had 40 consumers over a period of about a week to sample a burger​ [featuring Motif’s myoglobin and a new texturizing ingredient it plans to launch next year] and compare it to products that are on the market today, and our prototype scored high on all the target attributes, flavor, juiciness, texture, appearance…

“The data we got back were pretty striking. 73% of core client base consumers in that group preferred our burger over 80:20 beef and 63% preferred our prototype over leading retail brands.

“We’ve also partnered with a company called Coolgreens, a healthy restaurant franchise in Texas, which put our prototype product on their menu for a limited time, and it performed really well.”

Labeling: Is it vegan?

So what about positioning and messaging?

As this is ‘animal-free’ bovine myoglobin (that is, it’s made without animals), you can make a strong argument that it is vegan, a term not defined in food labeling laws in the US. But will hardcore vegans want to eat something that is effectively identical to a cow protein, and could it scupper the ‘plant-based’ credentials of the products that feature it?

“There's always going to be people who will have their own opinions about this," ​said Leonard. "But from a claims standpoint, we're very confident that inclusion of this ingredient will preserve a vegan claim for a customer. There’s no direct animal provenance, it’s not based on an animal source.”

Motif FoodWorks Lab -Credit Webb Chappell

Motif FoodWorks​ – a Boston-based startup focused on high-impact ingredients that can be added to plant- based meat and dairy formulations in small quantities but make a significant difference to the eating experience – recently raised $226m in Series B funding, bringing its cumulative funding to $345m.

Powered by Ginkgo Bioworks​​'​​​ ​​bioengineering platform, Motif FoodWorks​​​ was founded in early 2019, and will commercialize its first ingredient (myoglobin) by the end of this year, with a second ingredient focused on improving texture in plant-based meat, to follow in early 2022.

While plenty of other players are now deploying synthetic biology and using DNA sequences like strings of computer code to instruct armies of tiny microbial food factories (yeast, bacteria, fungi etc) to produce everything from flavors and sweeteners to ‘animal-free’ egg and dairy proteins, Motif is in a unique position, claims CTO Dr Mike Leonard.

“We have an exclusive partnership ​​with Ginkgo BioWorks​ to generate animal free ingredients for use in food, so​​ [the point of difference] it’s really around the high-throughput screening and strain development capabilities that they bring to the table. That's important because it means that we can take a lot of shots on goal at the same time.”

Investors, he says, also appreciate that Motif is not just looking at precision fermentation (its recent work on extrudable fats and corn prolamin protein technology​​​ does not involve microbes) and is taking a holistic approach to improving taste, texture and nutrition that incorporates a wide range of ingredients and disciplines, from materials science to synthetic biology, to new approaches to texture and sensory analysis such as invitro oral processing​​​.’ 

Interested in meat, dairy, and seafood alternatives?

Checkout FoodNavigator-USA's new 3-part webinar series exploring everything from animal-free dairy and cell-cultured milk to plant-based tuna, and whole cuts from mycelium: Disrupting the meat and dairy case: From plant-based bacon to 'real' cheese (minus the cows)

We've got an awesome lineup of speakers from Danone North America to Atlast Foods, Kroger, Nature's Fynd, Nowadays, Roquette, Oterra, NotCo, Change Foods, BioMilk, the GFI, Aqua Cultured Foods, Good Catch, New Wave Foods, Ocean Hugger, RSSL, and CP Kelco to explore the addressable market, how consumers are thinking about alt meat, dairy, and seafood, the investment landscape, formulation trends, and the expanding ingredient toolkit.

Find out more and register HERE.

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