Belgian start-up Paleo is leveraging precision fermentation technology to make the heme-binding protein myoglobin (an iron-rich protein found in animal muscle) from yeast.
In developing animal-free myglobin that is ‘identical’ to its conventional counterpart, Paleo is helping plant-based meat matrices look more like meat, taste more like meat, and provide a nutritional profile closer to that of meat, Paleo co-founder and CEO Hermes Sanctorum explains.
Making animal-free myoglobin in a lab
Sanctorum’s decision to enter the animal-free protein space was driven by ethics, having previously worked in politics on climate change and animal welfare, he explained at FoodNavigator’s recent Positive Nutrition Summit in London.
“I want to decrease animal suffering. And when you look at the globe, where is animal suffering mainly happening? It’s livestock. It’s the meat industry.”
In ‘strongly’ agreeing that meat consumption must decrease, Sanctorum also believes this can only be done with sufficient alternatives to conventional animal source products.
“That is why we make these animal proteins, this myoglobin, to increase the quality of meat and fish replacers.”
Nutrition is one area plant-based meat analogues are lacking in comparison to the real thing, the co-founder suggested. Ensuring sufficient iron intake amongst vegetarians and vegans can be a challenge, he explained. “But the myoglobins that we make contain [bioavailable] heme iron. You add it to plant-based food, you solve the iron issue…”
As to whether plant-based meat analogues could still be labelled ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ if they contained Paleo’s myoglobin, Sanctorum said that technically they could. “There is no animal involved whatsoever, it’s totally animal-free.”
The road to commercialisation
Paleo is currently manufacturing its animal-free myoglobin, but has not yet achieved commercialisation. “We’re scaling up,” he told this publication. Currently making it in ‘smaller’ volumes, the start-up is working towards ‘very large’ volumes, which is what will be required to disrupt the conventional meat market.
“If you look at the food industry, you don’t need kilograms. You need many tonnes,” Sanctorum explained.
But the technology side of things is not the ‘major’ challenge. “We’re getting there and it’s straight forward, it’s science.” Nor is it commercial traction, which Sanctorum described as ‘huge’.
The primary hurdle lies in regulation, according to the Paleo CEO. “That’s a human factor. It’s a bit of a black box. European procedures are tough. I believe, again, that we will get there in the end, but it more [a question of] time. It will take time before we get to European market authorisation, and that’s why even as a European start-up, we are a bit forced to start elsewhere.”
Watch the video for our full interview with co-founder and CEO of Paleo, Hermes Sanctorum, at FoodNavigator’s Positive Nutrition Summit 2023.