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‘Exceptional gel strength and elasticity…’ Merit Functional Foods touts methylcellulose substitute

Used by high-profile brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, methylcellulose is created from cellulose (a natural substance found in plant cells) by heating with a caustic (alkali) solution and treating with methyl chloride.

The end product is an odorless white powder with attractive gelling and emulsifying capabilities that is soluble in cold water, forms a gel at higher temperatures, and holds plant-based meat products such as hamburgers together while cooking, as well as enhancing the succulence and juiciness. The gel is ‘thermosreversible’, which means that when it cools down, it returns to a viscous solution.

While none of the major retailers or foodservice brands, including Whole Foods and Panera, include methylcellulose on their “unacceptable ingredient” lists, it is it’s not something consumers have in their kitchen cabinets at homeand is frequently cited as evidence for the ‘highly processed​’ nature of some plant-based meat products and was recently mentioned in a lawsuit against Beyond Meat challenging the ‘natural’ credentials of its burgers.

Methylcellulose substitution

Many companies are working on more label-friendly alternatives, including Noble– which says that beta glucan produced by a single-celled microbe called euglena has the potential to replace methylcellulose; fiberstar– stating that recycled citrus fiber could replace methylcellulose in combination with agar, native starch and psyllium; Y Silence– a startup that produces proteins through microbial fermentation.

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