For several years now, we’ve been able to go to grocery stores or restaurants and buy all sorts of products made from plants in imitation of products from animals. Burgers. Chicken. Sausages. Bacon. Now another product is being added to the list, and it’s even more unexpected than fake meat; you could even call it downright bizarre. Companies are working on—and already selling—plant-based fat. Yes, fat.
San Francisco-based Lypid initially launched in Taiwan. The company was founded by two Taiwanese entrepreneurs who met while completing PhDs at Cornell University. Plant-based burgers made with Lypid’s vegan fat are sold at a Taiwanese national chain of cafes. Last month the company announced the launch of its first product available in the US market: plant-based pork belly.
The pork belly is made with Lypid’s PhytoFat, a vegan fat meant to mimic the taste and texture of animal fat. It’s created using vegetable oils and water, but the key is what the company calls “microencapsulation” technology. This means they designed a coating for the oils that gives them a much higher melting point. Much like a vitamin, whose solid outer shell dissolves once it hits your stomach, little nuggets of oil are encased in a capsule that’s resistant to heat up to a certain temperature.
PhytoFat maintains its animal fat-like qualities even when heated to over 329 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius). The company says its pork belly sizzles, smells, and tastes like the real thing, and it can be sauteed, fried, or baked—but it’s 85 percent lower in saturated fat, 39 percent lower in calories, and 69 percent lower in sodium. There’s no artificial additives, no hydrogenation, and no trans fats. There’s even two different flavors: pork and beef.
Lypid received $4 million in seed funding in early 2022. They’re not the only ones working on an alternative to animal fat. One team of researchers is growing real fat in a lab using animal cells, just like cultured meat is produced starting with muscle cells from a chicken, pig, etc. A Bay Area-based company called Zero Acre Farms is working on a healthier (for humans and the planet) alternative to vegetable oil, produced using microorganisms and fermentation.
Because it’s easier to synthesize fat cells than muscle cells, lab-grown fat could become commercially available before lab-grown meat. At the moment, the cultured meat industry seems to be falling on hard times as companies realize it’s going to be a lot harder to economically scale than they thought. A recent study claimed that cultured meat could actually be worse for the planet than growing and slaughtering animals. Up to 25 times worse, to be exact.
If killing animals is inhumane and causes pollution, growing animal meat in labs is too expensive and energy-intensive, and fake meat made out of plants is—let’s face it—not nearly as good as the real thing, what might we find ourselves eating in the future?
More people may switch to a vegetarian diet. Cultured meat could eventually make the breakthroughs needed for economic and environmental feasibility. Or, with more products like Lypid’s fake fat, maybe plant-based meat will get closer to the real thing.
Image Credit: Lypid