Betting Better Fake Chicken Meat Will Be As Good As The Real Thing : The Salt A new Maryland company is betting that its mixture of soy, pea powder, carrot fiber and gluten-free flour tastes a lot like real chicken. Beyond Meat plans to expand into fake pork and ground beef next.

Betting Better Fake Chicken Meat Will Be As Good As The Real Thing

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And now some news about meat substitutes. A Maryland company has come up with an alternative to chicken that reportedly does taste like the real thing and aims to be cheaper as well.

Here's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: The inspiration for Ethan Brown's company started here.


NOGUCHI: Brown grew up spending weekends on his family farm in Grantsville, Maryland.


NOGUCHI: He now houses six pigs rescued from a slaughter farm. Chickens are kept on the grounds for their eggs.


NOGUCHI: This is chicken country. But a few miles from this farm, in Cumberland, Maryland, Brown started his company - Beyond Meat. And he hopes his products will give real chicken a run for its money.


NOGUCHI: This is what Brown calls the modern farm. It smells like chicken soup, but there are no animals here. Except for the hum of various heating and processing machines, it's quiet and looks more like a lab than a kitchen.

BILL MILSTEAD: This is one of the cleanest proteins you can get. You know, you don't have to worry about any of the additives that are being put into a chicken. It's just a very pure, simple product that comes from plants.

NOGUCHI: Bill Milstead is one of a growing base of a dozen employees. He tends to the machine.

MILSTEAD: I'm now dumping our powder mix into the hopper for the extruder.

NOGUCHI: Milstead's bucket contains a dry mix of soy and pea powder, carrot fiber and gluten-free flour. Through a process the company licensed exclusively from the University of Missouri, the mix is cooked, cooled and extruded through a customized machine. Milstead, ironically, used to work as a butcher.

MILSTEAD: And now I'm making fake chicken.

NOGUCHI: Which do you prefer?

MILSTEAD: Making fake chicken.

NOGUCHI: Ethan Brown stands at one end of the machine, pulling chunks of pale white strips that tear like cooked chicken. The entire process, from powder to product, takes about 15 seconds.

ETHAN BROWN: Compared to six weeks of raising a chicken, enormously efficient.

NOGUCHI: It also requires a fraction of the water, grains and land needed to raise chickens. Because of that, Brown believes Beyond Meat products can price below conventional meat as well as other meat alternatives, which tend to be more expensive.

But competition comes from many corners. Many of the large food companies already have meat alternatives that have been on the market for decades. And according to Mintel, a market research firm, those products are consumed by just over a tenth of households. Unseating real meat has proven difficult.

But Brown, a long-time vegan, is hoping a more realistic taste and texture can change that. Brown says his goal is for Beyond Meat to break out of the health-food niche and sell to mainstream meat-eaters. He believes Beyond Meat is an elegant solution to some of the world's environmental and health problems.

BROWN: Climate change, resource efficiency, health, animal welfare, all of those reasons point toward adopting a plant-based diet, versus meat.

NOGUCHI: The company also eventually plans to roll out fake ground beef and fake pork. But, of course, everything depends on how these products actually taste. And that's been a challenge.

My first brush with fake meat was during childhood in the early 1980s. My friend's parents made vegetarian chili with a meat substitute that looked like rabbit feed and tasted like bits of sponge.

But this, Lisa Krampf assures me, is not your parents' fake meat. Krampf is a caterer who works in the same building where Beyond Meat operates.

LISA KRAMPF: I've used it with barbeque sauce, I've done it with taco seasonings, I've done it for fajitas.

NOGUCHI: Every time, she says, people either don't notice the difference, or love it and request it again. Krampf prepares plates of one of her standards, a fake meat chicken salad. Brown and I dig in.

Yeah, it does taste like chicken.

BROWN: Yeah, it does.

NOGUCHI: Do you get jokes like that all the time?

BROWN: Yeah. It tastes like chicken.

NOGUCHI: Tastes like chicken?

BROWN: Yeah. Yeah.

NOGUCHI: Consumers will soon get a chance to taste test it for themselves. The Whole Foods Market chain starts selling prepared food using Beyond Meat chicken in Northern California next month.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Cumberland, Maryland.

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