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Cutting into Tallow – A Lipidomic Exploration of Animal-Based and Alternatively-Sourced Meat

As environmental concerns regarding climate change continue to rise, the business of animal husbandry for meat production has come under scrutiny for its role in contributing to global carbon emissions. For this reason, there has been a recent rise in the popularity of alternative sources of protein. Plant based proteins are not new. These sources of protein, like tofu coming from soy, have been widely available for purchase for decades and have been part of traditional diets for centuries. It is a new wave of alternative sources of protein that are engineered to mimic the flavor and texture of real meat, most often ground beef and pork, that have been widely popularized in recent years. Companies producing these alternative foods specifically tailor their processing of plant based protein sources or even culture the growth of these protein sources directly to look, feel and taste like animal-based protein. The flavor, texture and cooking properties of meat are not solely dependent on the composition of the protein; the lipid profile can significantly alter all of these sensory attributes. In this work, we took a targeted lipidomic approach to differentiate multiple sources of raw and cooked beef and plant-based beef substitutes. We also looked to determine whether unique characteristic lipidomic markers exist for the different sources of protein, and whether they could be used for unambiguous identification (e.g. when testing for adulteration). With this knowledge, we can make better assessments on the nutritional value of these alternative meat sources beyond their protein content, and help to inform alternative meat producers to produce a more authentic product.

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