Kicked off by a grant from the Good Food Institute (GFI), OléPBM was developed to address two critical areas that co-founders Christopher Gregson and Matthew Sillick say are impeding the plant-based meat sector.
“The two features that are holding back further adoption of plant-based meat products are taste and cost. Our product improves both of those factors,” Gregson told FoodNavigator-USA.
“From a taste point of view, we’re providing a fat that has animal-like flavors as well as providing the mouthfeel of an animal fat. We can achieve the sensory experience that you expect from an animal meat product."
“From a cost point of view, the largest component of a plant-based meat product is often the flavor. We can actually deliver that flavor [via OléPBM] in a much more efficient manner and thereby utilize much less of it and provide a cost benefit,” claimed Gregson.
Oleogels, the next best thing in alternative fats?
So how is Paragon Pure turning rice bran oil into a highly-functional fat with a similar sensory profile to animal fat and lower saturated fat content than coconut and palm oils?
According to Sillick, its ‘secret sauce’ lies within oleogelation, an emerging area of alternative fat technology whereby liquid oils can be converted into a semi-solid fat.
“There’s a long history of studying the combination of vegetable waxes and oils in academia. We’re taking rice bran oil and transforming it into a soft solid through what’s called oleogelation,” said Sillick, explaining that the oleogelation process involves immobilizing liquid edible oils into a 3D crystalline network of vegetable wax (in this case rice bran wax) to create a semi-solid plant-based fat for use in food applications.
The result is a stabilized plant-based oil with desirable hardness, melting properties, and flavor delivery in plant-based meat, dairy, and laminated baking applications (where it can replace hydrogenated shortening) while being lower in saturated fat than coconut and palm oils.
“This is one of the few technologies that can create a solid structure while still maintaining a low level of saturated fat. While coconut may have 80% saturated fat, we’re creating systems with 20-30% saturated fat,” said Sillick.
“In terms of performance, it’s important to allow fat to have the same features that it does within animal meat,” said Sillick, who added that because OléPBM has a slightly higher melting point than animal fats as well as coconut and palm oils it is retained better within the product during cooling.
In a plant-based meat application, for example, the fat remains intact during cooking but releases when being consumed, an important characteristic when eating animal meat such as a steak or burger.
“Animal meat is a very succulent and rich experience and we’re looking to play a key role in that. Yes, you need to control the release, but you also need to allow release during consumption,” added Sillick.
With OléPBM, the hardness of the alternative plant-based fat can be dialed up or down depending on the application (softer for emulsified applications and harder for more structured applications such as marbling in a whole cut of plant-based meat), added Gregson
From a sustainability point of view, OléPBM has a near-zero carbon footprint, according to Sillick, who said as one of the world’s most abundant organic materials with an estimated 63 million metric tons of rice bran produced annually, the company has created a new market for the ingredient which mostly goes into animal feed production.
‘We’ve had a huge amount of positive interest from the market’
The seed funding will be used to build a pilot plant capable of producing commercial runs up to 1 ton of OléPBM per day and provide potential customers with larger sample quantities to use in their product development work.
“We’ve had a huge amount of positive interest from the market. We’re working with several companies at different manufacturing scales to bring the product to commercial reality,” said Gregson.
“There’s a well-recognized need in the industry for an alternative to the current conventional fats that are used for these types of products, and we’re providing a product that meets those needs.”
Future of plant-based meat? ‘I think the long-term trend is exceptionally good and promising'
Asked about the perceived cooling off period of the plant-based sector in light of recent lackluster performance by Beyond Meat in particular, Gregson said, “I think the long-term trend is exceptionally good and promising. You had an exceptional year at the beginning of COVID. There was difficulty in the supply chain for conventional animal meat and there was an excitement for the prospect of plant-based meat coming together.”
But now the industry must meet a higher bar in terms of taste and performance of plant-based meat alternatives, he said.
“We are at a stage where we need to create products that are more accepted by the general population and that are better in terms of taste and cost,” said Gregson.
*Additional investors in the round include Next Gen Nutrition, Gather Ventures, SOSV, Siddhi Capital, and other food tech investors.