Grub Street looked into Silicon Valley’s race to reboot the burger, creating a meatless version that they believe could have a positive environmental impact.
“America’s highest-tech hamburger prototypes are built in Redwood City, the Silicon Valley home of Oracle and Evernote, in what looks like a test kitchen hijacked by chemists. On a sunny day in October, a lab-coated technician piled woolly brown threads into a small Tupperware container: proteins centrifuged from liquefied soy, wheat, and spinach and reassembled to mimic the fibrosity and tensile strength of a steer’s connective tissue. (Shaped via high-moisture extrusion, a process similar to that used for spaghetti, the threads would add chewiness — the resistance you feel when biting through beef, said a scientist who had specialized in biophysics and polymers before transitioning to gristle.) Next came the muscle replica, fresh from a KitchenAid’s meat grinder: fluffy, pale-pink clumps of proteins from the same three crops, isolated because they could form fleshlike gels and because one of them — RuBisCO, found in most plant matter yet apparently never before purified for food applications — firms up in the same temperature range as myosin, a key protein in meat. (In other words, it would enable the prototype to transform from raw to cooked the way a hamburger does.) A broth of amino acids and other precursors of meaty aromas — the latest vintage of the flavor team’s “magic mix” — was squirted out of a pipette and warmed on a hot plate. Red blobs of yet another protein melted in a beaker, which suddenly filled with synthetic blood.”