Based in Emeryville, California, Shiru mines databases of plants to identify proteins that have certain functional qualities such as emulsification, gelation, solubility, and foaming that are often found in animal proteins such as gelatin or casein.
But rather than extracting those proteins from plants, which may not be very efficient or sustainable if they’re only present in small quantities, Shiru expresses them via genetically engineered microorganisms such as yeast or fungi.
Together, Shiru and CP Kelco will accelerate product development for several proteins identified by Shiru’s ‘Flourish’ platform, said the partners: “CP Kelco will perform scale-up of these proteins with its fermentation capabilities and further validate the performance of the Shiru proteins in food prototypes by the end of this year.
“The first promising candidates for the Shiru-CP Kelco partnership include novel replacements for methylcellulose, a chemical compound used as a gelling agent and emulsifier in food products such as plant-based meat alternatives. R&D and production teams from both Shiru and CP Kelco are already working together at CP Kelco’s facility in San Diego to support the first prototype runs.”
Label-friendly alternatives to casein, gelatin?
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA last fall, Shiru founder and CEO Dr Jasmin Hume said the company is also working on proteins that have similar functionality to casein and gelatin.
“As functional as gelatin is, whether it's produced by extracting it from an animal source, or by microbial fermentation, the fact is that the consumer doesn't want to see it on the label,” said Hume, a biochemist formerly working as director of food chemistry at Eat Just.
'Our proteins are nature identical proteins to the ones we find in plants'
According to Hume, Shiru is not doing what Perfect Day and The EVERY Company are doing, which is making animal proteins such as casein or egg albumin from microbes instead of cows or chickens, but is instead finding proteins that are naturally produced by plants that have the same properties as things like casein, and then expressing them in microbes.
“Our proteins are nature identical proteins to the ones we find in plants. All of our proteins are plant proteins.”
When it comes to ‘cleaning up' labels in meat alternatives, methylcellulose (sometimes listed as ‘modified cellulose’ in a bid to make it sound more appealing) is probably top of the list of things formulators would like to replace.
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA last year, Melissa Machen, protein senior technical services specialist at Cargill, explained: “The challenge is that it's such a unique ingredient, it's such a functional ingredient. It’s soft in a gel at cold temperatures, but it firms as you heat it up so it gives that really nice hot firm bite in a meat alternative. It's also very effective because it's used it really moderate usage levels, just 1-2%.”