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The soluble meat powder with the potential to feed the world

The humble packet of mince is a household staple, but a revolution is in the works for Australia’s $75.4 billion red meat industry, thanks to a soluble protein powder with mild taste or smell.

Technology developed by CSIRO in partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has produced Just Meat protein powder, a nutrient-dense, highly soluble, allergen-free and shelf stable product that can be added to protein balls, energy drinks, shakes and foods that need protein or nutrient supplementation.

MLA’s Michael Lee, Group Manager of Science and Innovation, said its remarkableness comes down to what you can’t see.

“The ‘wow’ factor is that this powder is completely soluble in hot or cold liquid, free flowing, nutrient dense and has a minimal impact on the colour and flavour of the liquid, depending on how much powder you use,” he said.

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“The potential is pretty exciting for a range of markets. We offered protein balls to the public at Beef2024 as a sweet snack, but you can easily add the powder to soups, noodles or stocks that could be used in aged care or food and emergency aid in remote locations.

“And this unique technology can convert every bit of the carcase, from trimmings to offal and even prime cuts such as rump or grassfed beef, into an edible high protein meat powder. There’s also the potential to use the technology to make a meat extract that actually retains the flavours of meat.

“So, we would have a natural meat extract, rather than a hydrolysed plant-based product that tries to mimic meat.”

Dense source of iron available in snacks and drinks

The global forecast of an extra two billion people to feed by 2050 is driving demand for protein that is produced more sustainably and from a wide variety of sources.

Keen to explore the potential for meat as a key ingredient in the $3.8 billion wellness and nutraceuticals market, MLA funded a project with CSIRO to produce a ‘clean label’ product that didn’t mimic meat extracts, but produced a functional natural protein ingredient that was flavourless and odourless.

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“The real appeal of the powder is that for the consumer, it’s gluten free, soy free, dairy free and non-allergenic, but it contains all the nutritional properties of red meat such as high protein, iron, minerals and essential amino acids. We are currently seeing health statistics that one in three women are low in iron and taking supplements,” Michael said.

“Eating more red meat is one option, but this powder is a very dense source of protein and has iron, so people can take it in a snack or a drink when they’re on the go.”

Pictured: the 'Just Meat Co' protein powder

Hunt is on for commercialisation partner

CSIRO and MLA are currently working through patent protections and licence agreements and the search is on to find the right partner to take the product forward.

“Is it a sports drink company, is it a company that owns livestock in the industry and wants to get into ingredients, is it a powder company - how do we capture that value for the red meat producers who are MLA’s levy payers?” Michael said.

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“We’ve had an open conversation about how we best commercialise it for the food industry, and who in the value chain would be the best partner to take this forward and benefit the stakeholders we work for.”

For founder and project leader Dr Aarti Tobin, CSIRO’s Animal Protein Lead with the Future Protein Mission and a finalist in the inaugural AgriFutures growᴬᴳ⋅ Catalyst program, the challenge was finding the right ingredients and processes to convert the meat into high protein, highly soluble powder.

Pictured: Dr Aarti Tobin, CSIRO’s Animal Protein Lead

Pilot plant producing shelf-stable powder in kilogram quantities

An accomplished researcher in the food innovation space, Aarti led an in-house team of CSIRO scientists and researchers who worked on the project.

“The generic process was not that difficult but optimising the quality of the powder to be highly nutritious and soluble presented some challenges. That’s done, and now we’ve gone from lab scale to a pilot scale at CSIRO’s Food Innovation Centre at Werribee to make the powder in kilogram quantities,” Aarti explained.

“We’ll use this powder to do our own product development and we are also giving samples to some companies to test the powder in their own products. In the next 6-12 months we will be engaging with contract manufacturers to produce the Just Meat powder at much larger quantities and also talking to investors and partners to join us on the journey to co-create this new venture.”

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Aarti said that a plant to produce the powder could easily be established alongside a traditional processing site, with the novel manufacturing process used to convert meat products into high protein powders of different grades.

“The powder is shelf-stable, which means you can overcome refrigeration and transportation barriers to deliver meat’s nutritional benefits to very remote locations or during a disaster, for example,” she said.

Public taste test passed with flying colours

Aarti was pleased with the public response to the protein balls made from Just Meat powder at Beef2024 in Rockhampton in May.

“People really loved the product. As the powder has a mild flavour it was easily incorporated into a traditional protein ball, without a meaty taste.

MLA’s Michael Lee says the powder has additional advantages for the beef industry.

“For the meat sector it means we’re not so reliant on traditional markets. Right now, 80% of the value comes from 20% of the cuts, but meat as an ingredient opens up higher demand for the whole carcase.

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“Another benefit is around sustainability. We’ve got a lot of people on the journey to CN30, and this is another example of sustainably reared beef being turned into a sustainably produced powder,” Michael said.

“The research team has deliberately sought out combinations of technologies to produce the powder to stay within the truth of clean labelling, which is an extension of what we do on farm, designing a powder that is part of a sustainable supply chain.”

Just Meat project leader, Catalyst finalist, and esteemed researcher

Fiji-born Dr Aarti Tobin studied for her degree in Food Technology at Massey University in New Zealand and worked in meat research for six years before coming to Australia and joining CSIRO in 1994.

An accomplished researcher in the food innovation space, Aarti was one of seven women selected as finalists in the inaugural AgriFutures growᴬᴳ⋅ Catalyst program, that aimed to empower female leaders in agriculture and technology.

Despite a significant increase in numbers in the past decade, women only constitute 15% of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) workforce. The Catalyst program was designed to enhance their networks and capabilities within the agrifood and innovation ecosystem, while providing a platform to advance their research or innovation to the next developmental stage.

“This is something new for me, and Catalyst was a really amazing program,” Aarti said.

“I’ve been a scientist for 30 years and I got a grant to do my PhD in 2014, at the ripe age of 44 with two children! I’ve continued to work in the food space to look at more innovative methods of value adding, including working with RSL Care QLD to make meat products for elderly people with the swallowing disorder, dysphagia.

“I really wanted to bring meat into a space where it doesn’t exist – as a shelf-stable, highly soluble powder. Fresh meat is not accessible to everybody, but if you bring all the nutrition of meat into a stable powder like Just Meat, it broadens the opportunity to deliver it wherever you want.

“And when you take most of the flavour out but keep protein and minerals in, you can add it to any products. This opens up a whole new market. At the moment we’re using manufacturing meat, but this is a platform technology, so we could even use offal or hides in the process in the future.”

By participating in Catalyst, innovators gained valuable connections, knowledge and funding or partnership opportunities. They also had the chance to showcase their innovations, engage with industry stakeholders, and contribute to the growth and development of Australian agriculture.

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