The Next Generation of Plant-Based Scientists

For the first time, the University of California Berkeley now offers a class that asks students to invent innovative plant-based “meats” to address what the course description calls “the most pressing environmental and ethical issues of our times.”cutting board with a burger and a hearty bun with onion, pepper, and ketchup on the side

It’s hardly surprising that such a course would be offered there, given that the Silicon Valley food tech scene has already such game-changing products as the Impossible Burger and Perfect Day Milk.

Meet the Impossible Burger and Perfect Day Milk

To create the Impossible Burger, a team of scientists, farmers, and chefs spent five years developing methods and techniques that could recreate the sights, sounds, aromas, textures, and flavors of a beef burger with plants. They discovered that a compound called heme, one of the building blocks of all life, is particularly abundant in meat, and then used plant-derived heme to create a veggie burger that’s vividly and delicious reminiscent of the highest-quality beef patties. You can currently try Impossible Burgers at select restaurants in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Perfect Day milk, which the company hopes to have on store shelves by 2017, is made using a process similar to craft brewing. The team and Perfect Day use yeast and fermentation techniques to make their own milk proteins, then the add a mix of plant-based sugars, fats, and minerals. The resulting product has the taste, texture, and versatility of cow’s milk, but is 100 percent cruelty-free, and far more environmentally friendly.

Diverse Perspectives, Joining Together

The Berkeley course brings together the talents of students with an inclination for…

  • Life sciencepotatoes_facebook
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Plant biology
  • Chemical engineering
  • Design
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Business
  • Computer science.

The long list of fields of studies underlines the many forces that shape our food choices, and in turn, the many ways our food choices shape the world we live in.

Over the course of the semester, students will work in teams to create a product that addresses environmental and ethical challenges, such as the treatment of farm animals and which production methods of could help to curb climate change.

And the Winner Is…

The class, led by Ricardo San Martin, a chemical engineering professor, is the latest iteration of Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology Challenge Lab. San Martin says the ethical complexity of the subject made it ideal for a Challenge Lab. They also gravitate to issues the world is facing right now, “so there are no clear answers.”

At the end of the semester, after hours of lecture and independent work, a panel of plant-based meat experts will judge the business proposals and pick a winner, who will receive $5,000! It’s wonderful to see an institution like Berkeley taking plant-based living so seriously. We can’t wait to hear what the students come up with!

Berkeley is teaching a class on plant-based meat
The Impossible Burger
Perfect Day Foods
Meat substitutes are on the curriculum at UC Berkeley