As the world’s population grows, so does the demand for stable protein sources and meat is a rich source of protein; however, it is not sustainable. Animal protein production and consumption, whether in the form of meat or dairy products, is an environmentally demanding process since it requires considerable cultivable land, water, energy and raw materials. As a result, the research community is concentrating on refining current meat production method and producing meat substitutes or alternatives.[1]

For example, tofu is a meat alternative to proteins prepared from soybeans and is believed to have originated in China during the Han dynasty rule, which was close to two thousand years ago.[2] Vegan meat, also known as faux meat or meat analogues are products with texture, flavour or appearance similar to that of animal-based meat and these have been gaining increasing popularity in the recent years, especially since vegan meat production is much more sustainable than meat obtained from animals.[3]

Companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat produce meat alternatives from plant sources. Impossible Foods use soy and potato protein, while Beyond Meat uses pea, rice and mung bean protein to mimic the texture of ground beef.[4] In beef, the characteristic red colour comes from myoglobin. Beyond Meat use beet extracts to colour their products, while Impossible Foods use the iron-containing compound leghemoglobin, an oxygen transport molecule found in the roots of legumes, such as soy [4]. The flagship product of Impossible Foods, the Impossible Burger was launched in July 2016. This burger has higher protein, lesser total fat and no cholesterol, as compared to a similar-sized hamburger patty made with beef. On the other hand, the protein and fat content of a Beyond Burger patty are similar to a beef patty of comparable weight, but the salt content is higher.

Impossible Foods Burger Patties
Fig 1: Plant-based Burger Patties Image Credit:
Beyond Burger - Plant Based Burger
Fig 2: Plant-based Burger Patties Image Credit:

Cell-based or lab-grown meat products are meat alternatives produced from animal-derived cells, rather than from animals bred in captivity and butchered for their meat. There is a significant difference between cell-based and plant-based meat. The former is produced using animal cell culture technology, wherein, meat is produced from animal cells and the latter is obtained from plants and plant-based proteins and contains no animal cells.

Cell based meat products

The process of growing meat in a lab and bringing it to the table

Another mind-boggling innovation is the advent of 3D printed food. 3D printing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. 3D printing has many potential applications such as creating new medical implants and even human organs. A newcomer into this 3D printing realm is 3D printed food. Although, there are few people working on this subject, the technology is incredibly promising. Giuseppe Scionti, a tissue engineering and biomedicine expert is the creator of Novameat, a Barcelona-based firm that is working on 3D printing a plant-based steak. Novameat was founded in 2018. Scionti remarks, “I was able to generate something that had the same texture as meat, I was able to create micro fibres that resembled not just a hamburger or a meatball but had the same texture as muscular tissue.”[7] He employs procedures that are typically utilized for cultured meat, as well as bioprinting techniques that have been modified for use with plant-based meat ingredients. The 3D printer he uses expels a paste onto a printing plate, which forms the representation created by Scionti on CAD software.

3D printed steak
Fig 3: The 3D printed steak being printed onto the printing plate [7] (Image Credit: El País, Consuelo Bautista)

Chloé Rutzerveld, a “Food Futurist” challenges food production and consumption and has successfully designed an edible ecosystem that will grow and transform in situ. Her project, titled “Edible Growth” consists of designing a carbohydrate scaffold, with a breeding ground (such as agar-agar) for yeast, seeds and spores of fungi. The structure is designed in such a way that the different organisms are separated by a membrane and thus cannot infect each other, but are all able to reach the breeding ground. Multiple layers containing the carbohydrate support structure, agar-agar and the organisms are printed directly inside a tiny reusable greenhouse, which can be taken home by the consumer and placed on a windowsill. Photosynthesis occurs and the seeds sprout. Yeast uses the carbohydrate for nutrients and the spores develop into mushrooms, all within a span of three to five days. The appearance changes and the strength of the taste and odour increase as the product is kept for longer, much like Roquefort cheese, where the intensity of product ages over time. The consumer can decide when to harvest and eat the product according to their preferred intensity.[8]

Edible growth dish
Transformation of the product through time [8]

In one of her more recent projects, “We’ll have you for breakfast COVID-19!”, her team has designed 3D printed food in the shape of Lungs, Alveoli and also Kiwi and berry popsicle in the shape of the Coronavirus! [9] Innovative indeed!

Polenta shaped like Lungs & Tomato soup shaped like Alveoli
Polenta shaped like Lungs [9] & Tomato soup shaped like Alveoli [9]
Kiwi & berry popsicle shaped like the coronavirus
Kiwi and berry popsicle shaped like the coronavirus [9]

Rutzerveld has also authored a book “Food Futures” that investigates the untapped potential of food technology, as well as how we might use them to make our food more healthful and sustainable.

Another innovation is the rise of edible bottles. Although, its uses are plenty, it is no secret that plastic has been a menace to the environment. Edible water bottles are a great way to reduce waste and help the environment. These bottles are made from biodegradable materials, so that they can be eaten once the water is consumed or the bottle can be discarded without any harm to the environment. One such edible bottle product created by the startup Skipping Rocks Lab (which later rebranded into Notpla, which stands for “Not Plastic”) was Ooho. Frozen balls of a liquid such as water are dipped into an algae mixture that forms a membrane around the ice. The ice melts into liquid water and the membrane forms a watertight seal around it.[10]

Ooho was off to a great start, with it being served in festivals, marathons and other outdoor events where single-serving beverages without generation of large quantities of waste are best suited. But the broader goal of “the global solution to water and drinks on the go” was quite an impossible task. The algal membrane is quite delicate and is thus not something one can place in a backpack without an external packaging, thereby completely negating its “packaging free” mission.[10] However, this idea has driven Notpla to design biodegradable ketchup sachets in collaboration with Heinz Tomato Ketchup. They can be disposed of in a home-compost and will completely decompose in just four to six weeks.[11] They even have their own cardboard box coating for food boxes to make them greaseproof, where their coatings are prepared from seaweed and thus designed to naturally biodegrade.[12]

Biodegradable Ketchup sachets
Biodegradable Ketchup sachets [11]
Cardboard food box made with Notpla Coating
Cardboard food box made with Notpla Coating [10]

These examples are only scratching the surface of the myriad innovations that have abounded the food technology realm in the past decade or so. These trends may well become the future of everyday food consumption. There are other foods that deserve a mention, such as purple bread, spirulina-based and algae-based foods, edible mist, etc., but could not be accommodated here. Nevertheless, the future of sustainable production of food looks hopeful and may well enough retard the progression of climate change one day!


1. Kyriakopoulou, K., Dekkers, B., & van der Goot, A. J. (2018). Plant-based meat analogues. Sustainable Meat Production and Processing, 103–126.
2. Nishinari, K., Fang, Y., Nagano, T., Guo, S., & Wang, R. (2018). Soy as a food ingredient. Proteins in Food Processing, Second Edition, 149–186.
3. What is plant-based meat and why is it gaining popularity – The Week. Retrieved from
4. How Do They Make Plant-Based Meat Behave Like Beef? – The New York Times. Retrieved from
5. ImpossibleTM Burger: Made from Plants. Retrieved from
6. Burger | Plant-Based Burger Patties | Beyond Meat. Retrieved from
7. 3D printed meat, is the future of meat meatless? – 3Dnatives. Retrieved from
8. Chloé Rutzerveld Food Design. Retrieved from
9. Chloé Rutzerveld Food Design. Retrieved from
10. Crazy Ooho edible water spheres didn’t pan out, so the company pivoted. Retrieved from
11. Start-Up Notpla Creates Packaging Solutions Made From Seaweed And Other Natural Materials – DesignNuance. Retrieved from
12. Noticing Notpla? Seaweed pack pioneer disrupts conventional plastics with product expansions. Retrieved from

About the Authors:

Authors - Karthik, Sharanya & Divyashree


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An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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