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Published August 22nd, 2022

How High-Moisture Extrusion is Changing the Future of Alt Meat

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.

A range of companies like Bühler Group (on the photo) offer extrusion machines for a wide variety of use-case.

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!

How high-moisture extrusion works

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:

  1. Pre-conditioning
    Dry ingredients such as flours, concentrates, and isolates are mixed with water, steam, and/or oil, which can help to hydrate, uniformly combine and pre-heat the mixture.
  2. Processing
    The mixture is fed into the extruder, a metal cylinder containing one or two rotating screws that convey the mixture whilst exposing it to a series of chemical and physical processes, including heat, mechanical shearing, pressure, and moisture. The resulting product has an altered protein structure.
  3. Extrusion
    The mixture is fed through a thermoregulated die (a restricted opening) where it cools and expands rapidly, aligning the proteins to create the desired texture. Further post-extrusion operations can include cutting, tenderizing, shaping, and packing the final product.

Choosing the right extruder and plant proteins

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.

Manufacturers can experiment with a wide range of plant proteins but will exhibit a wide range of extrusion behaviors.

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.

Ingredient case study

Find out how we helped assess the competitiveness of a client’s two novel ingredients within the global plant-based meat and dairy markets.
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Defining parameters to achieve the perfect alt meat

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.

High-moisture extrusion creates alt meat with a fantastic range of realistic fibers.

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.

Scaling up extrusion

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 high-moisture extrusion production requires deep industry knowledge.

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.

Techno-economic feasibility case study

Discover how we created a practical roadmap to help a client build the world’s largest alternative meat and dairy industry park.
Read more

Taking high-moisture extrusion to the next level

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.

Extrusion is just a tip of the iceberg and what is yet to be identified is the more inventiveness, modularity and utility value of this mega technology to protect, preserve and nourish the entire green biome.
Dr Bhaskar Mitra
Extrusion Expert

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!

Ready to discover what alt protein strategies could mean for your business? Discuss it in a 30 minute call with our Managing Partner, Floor.
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