Wenger manufacturing helps food producers turn plants into plant-based meat

Wenger processing technology director Brian Plattner knows all about using extrusion to transform plant proteins into plant-based meat.


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Julia John

What does it take to turn plant proteins into plant-based meat? Wenger Manufacturing, Inc. is one of the foremost suppliers of extrusion cooking systems that plant-based meat producers use to reshape the proteins in their raw ingredients into sinewy fibers that biomimic animal meat.

As the processing technology director for the Food and Industrial Products Division at Wenger Manufacturing, Brian Plattner knows all about using extrusion to get from plants to plant-based meat. Brian collaborates with food manufacturers to expand and enhance extrusion technology.

We’re excited to have Brian share his insights as a panelist at the Good Food Conference this September. (And we’re honored to have Wenger Manufacturing as a conference Gold Sponsor!) For a taste of what’s in store, keep reading to learn what he has to say regarding plant-based meat and its possibilities.

Julia: What’s Wenger working on in the plant-based meat space?

Brian: Wenger is evaluating ingredients and ingredient combinations to rapidly make nutritious plant-based meat that looks and tastes like animal-based meat.

How did Wenger get involved in the plant-based meat industry?

Wenger’s initial work in textured vegetable proteins dates back to the early 1970s. One of our key drivers in those early days was Mr. Oak Smith, who saw extruded vegetable proteins as a way to “feed the world.” In addition to traditional extrusion processes, a recent acquisition makes it possible for us to make more plant-based products using a thermal process. It’s fair to say that plant-based meat has been a significant area of focus for us long before it became the trend we’re seeing today.

As an expert on extrusion, can you briefly describe the process and how it’s used to create plant-based meat?

Dry vegetable ingredients are typically hydrated and heated to unravel the long, twisted plant protein molecules. Then during what’s known as extrusion cooking, the individual protein bodies run together into strands of protein, are denatured, and are then stretched and twisted, one over the other, into a muscle-like structure that provides the chewiness found in plant-based meat alternatives

In your view, what’s the biggest achievement so far of the industry processing plants into meat, and what’s the biggest opportunity ahead for it?

The biggest industry achievement has been turning what used to be seen as a low-cost alternative to meat into a preferred, sustainable, and nutritious option. The biggest opportunity is expanding the protein ingredient sources to provide consumers with different options.

What do you consider the greatest challenge in manufacturing plant-based meat going forward, and how might it be overcome?

The challenge is in handling flavor and texture. Those pursuing a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle accept products that are significantly different from meat. Even though this segment is growing, the vast majority of consumers are still meat-eaters. They measure the quality of plant-based meat by looking at how it compares to conventional meat, so creating products that are indistinguishable from animal meat is a real challenge. Of the products on the market today, burger replacements are by far the most similar to meat. Creating other products, such as fish and cuts of red meat, are a real challenge.

Register now for the Good Food Conference 2019, September 4-6 in San Francisco to hear Brian talk good food tech IRL.