An exclusive report from The Spoon chronicles a taste testing of a new kind of plant-derived heme from Back of the Yards Algae Sciences (BYAS).
Heme is a precurser essential for the formation of hemoglobin, which facilitates the binding of oxygen in the blood. Heme is biosynthesized in both blood and liver cells. This ingredient is what makes the vegan and gluten free Impossible Burger taste so close to real beef. For gourmands, the heme is the key ingredient to making a vegan burger "bloody."
Josh Schonwald, a staff writer for the New York Times, was asked to examine a beta-version of a heme, a dietary supplement extracted from spirulina, a blue green algae.
On a quick inspection, the heme-sprayed versions didn’t look significantly different, or smell different, but after a few bites, I had a clear favorite. It’s hard to pinpoint the source of my preference. Maybe the heme-flavor overshadowed the nutty aftertaste of Beyond? Perhaps it was an increase in umami? Whatever it was, the heme-sprayed burgers were a clear upgrade. In fact, I was so impressed with the heme’s flavoring that I tested the burger on the biggest mock-meat skeptic I know: my 11-year-old son.
The BYAS lab has six full time staff The organization recently collaborated with LiquaDry, a Utah-based expert in turning algae into powders, to establish a patented facility to manufacture critical ingredients from algae. The launch of a new commodity with BYAS's algal heme will come next month when Brytlife Foods, a vegan food manufacturer, launches its vegan burger, titled the "Biome Burger" in four specialty grocers in New York City, including Park Slope Food Coop and Orchard Grocer.
The concept for the algal heme was created while doing research for one of their key company, which is satisfying the food industry's growing demand for natural colorants. When trying to establish a method for processing purple foods, Lerner extracted the leghemoglobin protein from spirulina.
To build an alternative to soy, BYAS first attempted to use surplus algal protein to create a meat analogue. But after almost two years of research and development, Philip abandoned the idea. “We tried everything and made a lot of progress,” he said to The Spoon, “but it still tasted like crap.”
When Lerer attempted at the algae as animal protein but once again failed, he had the bright concept of applying it as a flavoring for an artificial beef. He studied the first issue once more. “And voila, with a little tweaking there it was.”
Lerer said that he was both pleased and proud to have produced the new vegan "biome" burger. His company's aim is to reduce global dependency on soy adding that most ways of meat is produced require extremely high amounts of plant-based protein.