One of the biggest challenges in the alt meat industry is emulating the tender, chewy texture of meat, particularly when substitutes are produced on a large scale.
A relatively new process, known as high-moisture extrusion, offers a solution; by feeding inputs into a machine and fine-tuning multiple calibrations, one can change the shape, color, texture, and appearance of the end product to create something akin to real meat. However, this complexity means that high-moisture extrusion machinery can be challenging to operate and you’ll need the proper process to scale up manufacturing.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a better comprehension of how high-moisture extrusion works, the importance of the correct equipment and ingredients, the parameters involved in achieving your desired result, and what you’ll need to consider if you decide to scale up and take extrusion to the next level.
With the correct knowledge and know-how, high-moisture extrusion can help you to produce consistently high-quality and economical alt meat. Let’s get started!
High-moisture extrusion is a complicated process with endless calibrations that rapidly produce a wide range of final product characteristics. To put it simply, there are three main stages:
There are multiple extruders on the market so you’ll need to ask the manufacturers questions regarding specifications, such as screw design and diameter, barrel assembly, and temperature profiles.
Many suppliers will be able to demonstrate that your process functions on their extrusion equipment in a pilot lab before you make the purchase. Further optimizations may also need to be considered if your process involves post-extrusion operations.
Furthermore, protein powders with seemingly similar specifications can work very differently in an extruder; careful planning is needed to evaluate possible suppliers and their back-ups for similar functionalities of their proteins.
Fiber creation is more pronounced than other technologies and a wide variety of materials can be utilized and converted to create products that mimic beef, chicken, and even fish.
However, the optimal parameters must be determined to obtain the desired shape, color, texture, and appearance of your alt meat product. Some examples of parameters that affect the product quality include screw speed, temperature modulation, hydration/flow rates, and die length/cross-section.
Designing a great process is less of a science and more of an art since it’s a lot about testing and iterating. Since so many factors must be controlled, specialized training will be necessary to run a complete extruder setup.
High-moisture extrusion is a complex multivariate process that operates as a continuous system.
Whilst this helps to produce a consistent product, it can be challenging to scale up the extrusion process; simple mathematics to increase the ingredients and achieve a higher yield will likely end disastrously (e.g. increasing the volume of dry ingredients could affect how quickly the mixture is heated, which will result in a change in process conditions and expensive loss of valuable material).
Therefore, you’ll need specialized equipment and deep alt protein industry knowledge to determine the optimal process to help you scale.
Scaling your production of alt meat with high-moisture extrusion machinery has multiple benefits, including improved safety, cost efficiency, product stability, and more efficient resource usage.
A single-stage or double-stage preconditioner system can be attached to make cheap quality materials extrusion friendly and technologies can also be co-integrated to make products more tender and chewy, such as acoustics or a sonotrode.
Designing and bringing to life an effective high-moisture extrusion process is highly complex, not least since the industry and its technology change so rapidly.
Working with an established alternative proteins consultancy can assist in numerous ways, from product conception to pilot testing high-potential products and refining/scaling the manufacturing process.
Bright Green Partners is deeply embedded in the alt protein ecosystem, with a global team of experts proficient in all aspects of extrusion.
Our consultants will support your understanding of high-moisture extrusion and help you to develop strategies, design processes, and turn your ideas into reality. Together, we’ll change the future of meat and dairy!