Meat conjured from thin air becomes latest alternative protein

May be used in burgers and tacos competing with Beyond Meat

The latest iteration of fake meat is made out of thin air.

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A protein made from a process that converts carbon dioxide into an ingredient mimicking the nutritional profile of animal protein has been introduced by the company Air Protein, which envisions microbe-derived proteins in burgers and tacos competing with the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

The Bay area startup introduced its version of air-based meat Tuesday, utilizing technology first discovered by NASA in the 1960s when scientists were experimenting with ways to feed astronauts in space. They learned they could use microorganisms to convert carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts into food.

Air Protein, a protein made from air in a process that converts carbon dioxide, was introduced on Tuesday. 

Air Protein's production process is similar to that of yogurt. It's made in a closed fermenter where naturally-occurring microbes consume carbon dioxide and what the company calls a blend of “mineral nutrients” to create an ingredient that is 80 percent protein.

It’s said to have the same nutritional profile as meat, and it doesn’t contain hormones or antibiotics. Air Protein also says it has two times the protein of soybeans. To compare, meat substitutes from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods use proteins made from soy and peas.

This revolutionary new protein source will be able to make meatless burgers, protein-enriched pasta, cereals, beverages and more

- Jeremy Ertl, spokesman for Air Protein

“This revolutionary new protein source will be able to make meatless burgers, protein-enriched pasta, cereals, beverages and more,” Jeremy Ertl, a spokesman for Air Protein, said in a statement.

Alternative meat made from Air Protein could be used as a beef or chicken substitute in dishes like tacos. (Courtesy of Air Protein). 

Air Protein's new product is merely the latest entry in the field of alternative meats aiming to transform American food consumption. The market for plant-based foods has grown 11 percent in the past year, bringing its total value to $4.5 billion, according to the Plant Based Foods Association.

Indeed, plant-based foods like chickpea pasta, cauliflower pizza, oat milk and meatless burgers are increasingly sprouting up at grocery stores and fast-food chains. Burger King announced it would add its meatless Impossible Burger to kids meals this week, and chains such as KFC, Del Toro and White Castle also carry meat alternatives.

PLANT-BASED PIZZA, PASTA AND MEAT ARE ON THE RISE, BUT ARE THEY HEALTHIER? 

Such products are in high demand, not just by consumers with food allergies, but among meat-eaters looking to diversify their protein intake and find sustainable options. Some 95 percent of consumers who bought a plant-based burger this year also said they ate meat, according to data by market research firm NPD Group.

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