From banana skins to oats, the hunt for the perfect meat-free alternative has taken us down some weird routes. Now, the buzziest new ingredient might just be the most unusual yet, as it literally comes from the air.Air Protein is a meatless meat made using flour formed from “elements found in the air we breathe”, according to the eponymous company.But what does this actually mean?
Why Air Protein?The plant-based industry is booming. People are becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental impact of eating meat, and are turning to vegan options for animal welfare reasons as well.Air Protein is joining the market for environmental reasons. It cites statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations saying that animal agriculture is responsible for nearly one-fifth of human-induced greenhouse gases, which is more than all transportation emissions combined.And it’s clear there’s a big market for meat-free alternatives, with the Vegan Society saying the number of vegans in Great Britain quadrupled between 2014 and 2019.
The science behind itThe whole idea of making food out of thin air was dreamed up by NASA as a way for astronauts to sustain themselves on long trips. Air Protein explains: “Astronauts would exhale CO2, which would be captured by [a special class of] microbes, then converted, with other inputs such as power and water, into food, which would feed the astronauts.“Then these astronauts would exhale CO2, further enabling the hydrogenotrophs to continue producing an endless cycle of nutrients.” FYI, hydrogenotrophs are natural single-cell organisms which Air Protein says “act like plants in converting carbon dioxide into food”.This is known as a closed-loop carbon cycle, which Air Protein is using to produce its ‘Air Protein flour’ to develop meat alternatives. It’s said to be free from pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics.The process has been likened to that of making yoghurt or beer. The company’s CEO Lisa Dyson’s TED Talk on the technology, discusses the many benefits of these kinds of crops – they are grown in fermentation tanks and only take hours to produce, plus can thrive in any season.
What is it actually like?According to Air Protein, the flour contains all nine of the essential amino acids necessary for the human diet, “with an amino acid profile comparable to animal protein, and double the amount of amino acids compared to protein made from soybeans.” It’s also rich in vitamins and minerals like B12, which is notoriously tricky to get in a vegan diet.But what of the actual taste? The Guardian says it has a neutral flavour, and the pale brown powder can be mixed with other ingredients to make meat alternatives, or be used in protein bars and shakes.There’s a lot of buzz around Air Protein, but unfortunately you can’t buy it just yet. Apparently the company is deciding what product they should bring to market first, and hope to launch next year.