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Cutting-edge crossbreeding: Equinom beefs up plant-based meat products with “designer seeds”

Equinom Ltd., a seed-breeding start-up, has announced an innovation in creating plants that deliver high-protein content. Using non-GMO techniques, Equinom crossbreeds plants to reach a fucntional composition of protein, starch, fiber and sugar content. Through the use of biochemistry tools, the start-up can create new breeds of seeds every year, tailored to specific food applications. The designer seeds are positioned to enable food companies to provide clean-label, sustainable meat alternatives.

Equinom has found a novel way to increase protein in plants. “By increasing the content of protein on the seed-level, you can achieve a higher protein flour by 65-75 percent because you start with grains that have 50 percent more protein. This amount for a flour or ingredient could only be achieved in the past by using isolation and purification processes. Working from the seed level creates cleaner labels with less solvents,” Itay Dana, Marketing Director for Equinom tells.

Dana explains that Equinom is also to design plant composition as well as yield performance. “When we breed, we breed for multi-traits – we are not limited to a single trait or a single gene,” he says. “So we can breed seeds that have the specific protein composition, with the specific starch, fibers and sugars that are required.”

Equinom’s strong relationships with food companies gives the company access to data about traits and values that no one in the seeds industry before had an interest in it or was looking for, Dana continues. “For example, taste of the grains. By offering seeds/grains gently bred for a better taste profile, less synthetic ingredients are needed.”

Expanding on how Equinom has custom-designed plant varieties that have revived great taste, appealing texture and improved nutrition, Equinom conducted a technological research and market analysis about the characteristics that are critical for the success of each food category. “For example, meat analogues industry – there are various processing technology creating different texture. We identified that different protein compositions and different starches (naturally present in the legumes) provide different texture. Texture that can suit sausage texture, burgers and another for extruder plant chunks. With this intelligence, we decided to put our focused on four primary crops (soybean, pea, chickpea and sesame) and four late bloomers (cowpea, mung bean, fava bean and quinoa) and we designed their breeding program to target a number of varieties of products from each crop,” he adds.

Plant-based meat with a simple, clean label

"By offering seeds/grains gently bred for a better taste profile, less synthetic ingredients are needed.”

Since consumers are seeking simple-to-understand labels on food products, “clean” has taken on an expanded meaning. “Natural products not only need to exclude additives and preservatives; they also must have short, simple ingredient lists,” Dana explains. “Most natural ingredients still require extensive processing which strips the products of taste and functionality. To achieve palate appeal as well as nutritional and sales objectives, manufacturers tack on masks, flavor enhancers, fillers and highly processed ingredients, such as protein isolates,” he notes.

However, minimal processing is needed when using plants made with designer seeds, according to Equinom. That’s because the beans already contain the nutrition, taste and texture that producers are looking for. “Equinom breeds specifically for organoleptic properties, custom-designing plant varieties that have revived great taste, appealing texture and improved nutrition,” explains Sigal Meirovitch, Ph.D., Head of Protein Development for Equinom. “The company has restored these high-demand qualities naturally in the crops, demonstrating that one plant can have it all.”

On the quest for taste

Finding a satisfying and healthy meat-like taste has been a constant struggle for manufacturers. With 49 percent of US consumers being driven by health consciousness when buying meat and dairy alternatives, the industry is looking for reliable ways to provide health and taste.

The key ingredient in the Impossible Burger - soy leghemoglobin - recently came under fire by industry watchdog the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The organization claims that the critical ingredient which contains heme - a compound also found in red meat - was not adequately evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Givaudan is also looking for ways to make functional proteins taste better. The company recently unveiled a selection of masking solutions to counter off-notes across six plant-based proteins. Developed in combination with a new smart masking tool, the solutions were tried and tested over 18 months.

Equinom use artificial intelligence to test and categorize variations in taste and smell with its E-tongue and E-nose technology. “These technologies help us to have a classification of the dozens of seeds into groups or clusters. We can then use sensory panels for the definition of the specific taste value of each cluster. Customers could have access to those clusters and pick the ones that are relevant to their formulation. It helps us to trace elements that bring off-taste or a great tasting experience,” says Dana.

Consumers are increasingly looking for plant-based options with a simple ingredient list.

Sustainable for the world and your wallet

Minimally processed plant-based meat products have been expensive because locating ingredients that hit the sweet spot between optimizing clean nutrition and profitability has evaded manufacturers, according to Equinom. “We learned that by having this amount of protein in flour you keep many of natural protein functionalities. the processing company can use less energy and cleaner technology to reach high-protein products,” he says.

Investments are being made far and wide in meeting consumer-driven demand to offset climate change. Cargill recently ramped up its interest in Puris, the largest North American producer of pea protein and a key supplier to Beyond Meat, with an additional US$75 million investment.

Meanwhile, Tyson Foods recently completed an investment in New Wave Foods, a company focused on producing plant-based shellfish. The company plans to have a shrimp alternative ready in early 2020.

Another industry leader, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has begun piloting its Beyond Fried Chicken. The restaurant follows leading food service brands such as Subway, Carl’s Junior and HelloFresh, which have added meat alternatives to their menus.



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