How This Startup Is Making Plant-Based Meat More Realistic

With plant-based alternatives appearing on the menus of food giants like Chipotle, Burger King, and Starbucks (via The Spruce Eats), what was once a niche interest for vegan and vegetarians seems to have made its breakout into the mainstream. As of 2020, a Gallup poll found that four in 10 Americans have tried plant-based meat at least once, and most would try them again — but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. That same year, alternative proteins broke records in the funding they received from investors to develop their products (via Good Food Institute), and we aren't just talking veggie patties.

Around the globe, vegan butcheries and food start-ups are getting experimental with vegan meat alternatives, creating artisanal varieties of plant-based seafood and meat designed to replicate and replace animal products. Sundial Foods, a plant-based food start-up headquartered in Albany, California (via Linkedin), has developed its own technology to make plant-based meat taste more like the real thing. Inspired by their studies at UC Berkely (via Sundial Foods), the two women co-founders discovered a way to recreate whole cuts of meat, and they're starting with chicken wings — complete with the skin, meat, bone, and all.

New technology, fewer ingredients

These days, there are a plethora of options for plant-based meat alternatives. But, what a lot of these options fall short on is texture. Many of the new-age meat alternatives are created using a combination of high moisture extrusion processes followed by something known as shear cell technology, which is used to create a fibrous texture similar to meat (via Institute of Food Technologists). However, Indie Bio says that Sundial's proprietary tech cuts down the processing time, producing a cohesive cut of plant-based meat in one step. The best part? You get a juicy, skin-on bite with fewer ingredients.

After using edible film to retain the moisture and improve the mouthfeel of plant-based meat in one of their class projects at UC Berkely, co-founders Jessica Schwabach and Siwen Deng were inspired to create plant-based meat alternatives that mimicked the full experience of eating meat: from biting through skin to chewing muscle fibers (via Food Navigator). Instead of focusing on the protein, Indie Bio says that the pair developed a heat-based process to balance and layer starch, fiber, and fat — recreating the complex texture of a chicken wing using just eight plant-based ingredients, and no binders or additives (via Sundial Foods).

In just a month and a half from their launch, Food Navigator says that Sundial's secured distribution for their plant-based chicken wings in two restaurants in San Francisco, Farming Hope at Manny's, and Foghorm Taproom as well as Orchard Grocer in New York City (via Sundial Foods). The company plans to continue expanding via the food service route until the second quarter of next year, when they plan to move into retail, and before they use their technology to experiment with different plant-based meat cuts and textures (via Food Navigator).