NEW ORLEANS – “Our goal is to perfectly replace animal meat with plant-based options,” said Dariush Ajami, Ph.D., chief innovation officer.

Hitting the goal is not that simple. It takes 22 ingredients for the Beyond Burger to look like raw meat, cook and sizzle like meat, and have a beefy flavor and texture.

“We want to be as clean as possible,” Ajami said in a June 4 presentation in New Orleans at IFT19, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition. “I know the ingredient list is way long, but sometimes we have to add those functional (ingredients). The hope is to make it shorter. We are soy-free and GMO-free.”

Beyond Meat, El Segundo, California, works with flavor companies to understand meat flavors, he said. To avoid any unwanted gray color, the company adds annatto and beet juice extract.

Pea protein is the main source of plant protein in the Beyond Burger. Plant proteins tend to come from the seed, Dr. Ajami said, which means most of the proteins are storage proteins that help the germination process.

“They have a very dense structure,” Ajami said. “They are packed to occupy the smallest space.”

The key is getting the plant protein to work like the fibrous muscle tissue in meat, he said. The Beyond Burger contains methylcellulose, an ingredient not often associated with clean label, as a binding system. Beyond Meat has yet to find an ingredient that offers similar functional benefits to methylcellulose.

Beyond Meat has found success and expanded its portfolio. Beyond Sausage launched last year. The company is launching Beyond Beef, which is crumbles of ground beef that consumers may use in applications like burgers, pasta sauces and tacos.

Beyond Meat products fit into the sustainability trend. The company commissioned the Center for Sustainable Systems at the Univ. of Michigan to assess the Beyond Burger. Results showed the Beyond Burger generates 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46 percent less energy, has more than 99 percent less impact on water scarcity and has 93 percent less impact on land use than a quarter pound of US beef.

Tariush Ajami, Ph.D., chief innovation officer for Beyond Meat

Plant-based burgers have become a competitive category. The Impossible Burger, which features soy protein, is found on restaurant menus across America. Nestle S.A., Vevey, Switzerland, has launched a plant-based burger in Europe and plans to do the same in the United States. Tyson Foods, Springdale, Arkansas, earlier this year ended its investment in Beyond Meat and plans to compete in the alternative meat category.

“Competition will help to increase the pace of innovation,” Ajami said.

Beyond Burger ingredients: water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, contains 2 percent or less of the following: cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, natural flavor, maltodextrin, yeast extract, salt, sunflower oil, vegetable glycerin, dried yeast, gum Arabic, citrus extract (to protect quality), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), beet juice extract (for color), acetic acid, succinic acid, modified food starch, annatto (for color).