Color Aesthetics of Plant-Based Beef Alternatives

Plant-Based Proteins Are Going Mainstream

While the clean ingredient trend is no surprise anymore, additionally, consumers are seeking out more plant-based products. An example becoming increasingly more popular is substituting vegetables in place of animal proteins. Whether this decision aligns with the desire for a more veggie-rich diet or serves as a reflection of one’s values on animal welfare, food manufacturers have been responding by committing to long-term investment and innovation around plant-based meat alternatives.

In 2016, Tyson Foods and the venture capital arm of General Mills both invested in the plant-based food startup, Beyond Meat. Cargill, one of the world’s largest beef suppliers, also sold two of its cattle feedlots in Texas this year with plans of selling two more to redistribute capital into other investments, per the company’s President, John Keating. Shortly after, Cargill spokesman, Mike Martin, explained the company’s intention to expand its North America-based protein business by exploring plant-based protein, fish and insects, along with other opportunities linked to livestock and poultry. Canada is also gaining traction in the plant-based meat market with top meat producer Maple Leaf Foods’ purchase of US-based LightLife Foods, one of the top five meat substitute brands in the U.S.

It’s evident that times are indeed changing. In 2016, the U.S. was tied with Spain and the UK for the fifth most retail launches of global new meat alternatives (5%), and the market for meatless “meat” products is projected to continue to grow in the next few years according to Mintel. Even fast-food giant, McDonald’s is testing the waters of the plant-based meat segment with their soy-based McVegan burger trial in Finland. In addition, 31% of the general U.S. population like to have “meat-free” days such as “Meatless Mondays.” Impossible Foods, a start-up leader in the plant-based meat category, now has their meatless “Impossible Burger” in restaurant chains in California, Nevada, and New York. Now, one can even find some of these plant-based meat products in the actual meat retail sections, like Beyond Meat’s plant-based burger sold at select Whole Foods, Safeway, and Kroger stores around the U.S.

Plant-Based Meat Without Compromise

The sensory experience of eating plant-based meats seems to be an extremely important topic amongst product developers.



For many food scientists working on these products, they are tasked with creating a faux burger that looks, tastes, and smells just like the real thing. One way to help plant-based meats imitate the appearance of actual ground beef and maintain a simple, vegan ingredient list is color from botanical sources.

When it comes to color, your approach will be different dependent on aesthetic goals and pH environment. Let’s look at a couple of different case studies…


The Medium Rare to Medium Plant-Based Burger


Obtain a color to withstand the cook/grill process, so the plant-based meat alternative emulates its bloody and juicy counterpart


Pre-cook red patty and red juices post-cook/grill


Innovative heat-stable red vegetable juices like SupraRed™




In neutral environments, color from red anthocyanins will exhibit shades of purple and blue


Standard beet juice solutions tend to brown under heat processes


In acidic environments, color from red beet juice will degrade and fade, resulting in a colorless effect


The Medium Well to Well-Done Plant-Based Burger


Obtain a color to emulate the Maillard effect (browning) of cooked meat


Pre-cook red patty, but browned meat and juices post-cook


Red fruit and vegetable juices dependent on pH


Brown fruit juices like Sienna™


Generally, high usage rates are unnecessary, so cost-in-use is optimistic for this application. With the industry’s strides in natural color extraction techniques and innovative technologies, achieving the desired appearance of actual beef in plant-based alternatives should not involve any compromise.

If you have any questions or projects where you need some assistance, please feel free to reach out to my team or me. We love to talk color!

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