Chickpea burgers are nothing new. Almost any online search for vegetarian burger recipes will bring up at least one result containing the golden, protein- and fibre-rich legume.
But most of these recipes are based on canned or fresh chickpeas that are either hydrated or tenderized, according to Meat.The End (MTE) CEO Dr Yishai Mishor. The Israeli start-up’s innovation distinguishes itself by using texturized chickpea protein isolate instead, developed from its proprietary technology.
“This technology allows us to create a burger that has a meat-like texture and mouthfeel, which is something that other chickpea burger recipes cannot achieve,” Dr Mishor told FoodNavigator. “It is the combination of our unique technology and our team’s expertise that allows for this technological breakthrough,” he revealed, describing its introduction to market an ‘industry first’.
Laser-focused on texture
MTE was founded in 2020 to tackle poor texture in plant-based meat analogues. According to the start-up, taste and consumer acceptance of plant-based meat has been proven, but texture continues to disappoint.
Dr Mishor has previously described vegan burgers, sausages, and minced meat alternatives as reaching ‘really impressive achievements’ in taste, yet ‘mediocre’ achievements in texture.
MTE’s IP lies in the ‘reinvention’ of traditional extrusion technology (the company adds in extra processing steps before, during and after the extrusion process) to develop a textured vegetable protein (TVP) with a ‘significantly better bite’ – one more closely aligned to the experience of eating meat.
Having leveraged this technology to develop soy-based Veggie Whoppers for Burger King in Israel, the start-up is now applying it to chickpeas.
“We do extrusion and formulation in-house, using our proprietary technology, which combines expertise in extrusion, protein science, data science and food engineering,” explained Dr Mishor.
MTE sources chickpea powders - both isolate and concentrate – from suppliers worldwide, and acknowledges there are already a number of protein powders available from a variety of protein sources. But the introduction of texturized chickpea protein as a meat alternative application is a 'first-of-its-kind breakthrough’, we were told.
Meat.The End’s chickpea protein burger is made using a chickpea protein flake.
While other burgers have been developed using a mixed flake, the start-up claims to be the first to have been developed for market with a 100% chickpea protein flake.
“The stark difference is our ability to create a flake that is solely made from chickpea protein, and to create from it a meaty texture – which has not been done by anyone else in the world,” said CEO Dr Yishai Mishor.
Spotlight on nutrition and sustainability
So why chickpeas? For starters, MTE believes the legume lends a healthier nutritional profile compared to both conventional meat and other plant-based alternatives.
“Chickpea is a rich source of protein, is non-GMO, has a neutral taste, is non-allergenic, and is versatile for use in various applications,” Dr Mishor told this publication. Being well-known and consumer-friendly, it is also rich in the amino acid lysine, which makes it complementary to grains in a daily diet.
“Aside from superior taste and texture, our process results in a product with a better nutritional profile than both conventional beef and our plant-based competitors. It has a Nutri-Score ‘A’ and is lower in calories, and total & saturated fat compared to conventional beef burgers,” we were told. “It has zero cholesterol, is high in protein, and a source of dietary fibre.”
From a sustainability standpoint, production of chickpeas can enrich the diversity of farm crops and – similarly to other legumes – contribute to healthy soil. The chickpea plant is heralded as a nitrogen fixer, which improves soil fertility and can reduce the need for chemical fertilisers.
Further, the amount of water required in the chickpea production process is ‘relatively’ low, explained Dr Mishor, and can help result in a low carbon footprint for food makers.
Expanding beyond soy and pea protein
Traditionally, TVP was based on soy as a primary protein source. Indeed, this is the protein source in the Veggie Whoppers and Veggie Kings MTE supplies to Burger King in Israel.
But soy’s dominance is not so absolute these days, with the introduction of pea protein meeting consumer demand for protein variety. The introduction of pea protein was a ‘game-changer’ that expanded the market, Dr Mishor explained, but whether using soy or pea, or indeed chickpea, creating a ‘meatier’ texture is not a straightforward process, we were told.
“Each protein source has its own properties, such as different functionality, colour, solubility, flavour profile and chemical composition. In order to get the right product, we had to specialise in the entire production chain, from understanding feeding and isolation techniques to selecting the right ingredients and overcoming technological challenges during the extrusion process.
“We then use our unique sensory methodology in order to attain the optimal formulation. It was important for us to have a juicy bite to allow consumers the fully expected meat-like sensation, from sustainable sources.”
MTE is a proponent of diversifying alternative protein sources and believes that the alternative protein industry as whole needs to be future-proofing itself in this way.
“The collapse of climatic stability, and an ongoing rise in meat prices, directly affect and put pressure on the global food supply chain,” said the MTE CEO. “Add to that crises such as the war in Ukraine, and that reality brings an acute need for the food industry to increase its protein sources.”
Having launched onto the market via its Burger King tie-up six months ago, MTE is now in contact with ‘leading’ retailers in Europe. As to its new chickpea product, the start-up believes it is suited to companies looking to diversify their protein offerings.