Monday, September 4, 2023

"I try synthetic salmon and enter the 'uncanny valley' of taste"

A topic of endless fascination.* Okay, maybe not endless.

First up, an example of the uncanny valley:

You know what it is supposed to be but it is not quite there. 

As seen in 

Seinfeld, Virtual Reality and Mild Revulsion
The Uncanny Valley, Interior-Design Edition

The "uncanny valley" usually applies to human aesthetics. It describes that vague sense of revulsion you get when you see a fabricated person—a robot, usually—who looks aaaaalmost human … but not quite....
And from Ars Technica, August 19:
Synthetic fish isn't quite there yet—and may not be worth the effort.

I could count on one thing as I sat down for a multiple-course meal based on something that looked very much like salmon: I would not have to worry about any bones. The plant-based theme ingredient came from a Toronto startup called New School Foods that has been developing a way to construct a salmon substitute with not just the taste but also the texture of the real thing.

New School treated a table’s worth of journalists to a tasting dinner in Toronto in late June—subject to a no-food-photos rule for attendees but with no restrictions on taking notes. That comped meal came hours after CEO Chris Bryson gave his sales pitch for the company during a panel at the Collision conference there, in which he said that New School’s goal was to see its products “enthusiastically adopted by non-vegans.”

New School has given itself a tall order by making salmon its go-to-market product. Salmon both has a distinctive, delicate texture and one of the most identifiable flavor profiles among seafood. And people prepare it with a wider range of techniques than most kinds of meat allow—grilling, poaching, sautéing, smoking, roasting, or even not cooking it at all. For plant-based salmon to pass muster, it has to work across those use cases.

New School says that its “scaffolding” technology, developed at Toronto Metropolitan University, makes that possible. This technique departs from the higher-temperature processes used to generate such plant-based foods as the Impossible Burger because it yields an uncooked product without denatured proteins. As the technical description in New School's press kit says:

New School Foods’ process starts by creating a biopolymer gel. This homogeneous hydrogel is placed in contact with a freezing surface and the gel is directionally frozen, resulting in the formation of thousands of directionally aligned, microscopic ice crystals traveling away from the freezing source.

Once the gel is fully frozen, the ice is removed, leaving behind empty channels. These channels act as a scaffold; the channels are filled with proteins and other ingredients (color, flavors, fats) to form the muscle fibers.

The company claims that the result has the differentiated texture of a cut of meat. Compared to the ground meat in a burger, sausage, or meatball, that’s a much harder thing to imitate with plant parts, though it is also a goal that other food startups have been pursuing.

Four flavors of faux fish....