What is plant-based meat made from? For decades, vegan brands have popularized soy- and bean-based proteins, but recently, major companies have broadened their portfolios. From pea protein to more niche legumes including Eat Just’s mung bean-based egg or Lupreme’s lupin bean base, you can find vegan proteins made from almost plant. But two companies just unveiled two new plant-based protein ingredients that aim to solidify that.

New Zealand-based Leaft Foods and Estonia-based The Naturist just announced leaf-based and hemp-based meat alternatives, respectively. Among a growing universe of alternative proteins that features mycelium fibers designed to mimic chicken meat, heme-based protein to replicate the texture of beef, and even 3D printed steaks, both brands are breaking into the $6 billion vegan meat market with unusual ingredients.

Now, Leaft Foods and The Naturist aim to prove their leaf and hemp-based vegan meat products against a competitive plant-based meat market and massive animal agriculture industry. Both companies spent years researching and developing the perfect formulas to prepare these unconventional ingredients for the commercial market. Soon, consumers worldwide will be able to try a burger made from leaves.

What is Leaf-Based Meat?

Leaft Foods seeks to take advantage of the most abundant part of a plant: The leaves. For years, companies and researchers have attempted to extract protein from leaves with little success. But now, Leaft’s proprietary technology allows the company to extract the protein Rubisco – the protein used for photosynthesis – from green leaves like kale, arugula, and spinach. The company claims that this is the most plentiful protein on the planet, making it potentially the most sustainable protein possible.

The food tech company just announced that it secured $15 million during its most recent funding round, featuring major investors including Khosla Ventures, New Zealand investor Ngai Tahu, and NBA star Steven Adams. The investment package will be used to increase the company's production capabilities, aiming to expand into the United States market and further its research and development. The company hopes that its innovative protein could help promote a brand new form of regenerative agriculture.

“Nature’s biggest animals — elephants, buffalo, and cattle — are all herbivores who have evolved to digest protein in leaves, especially with the latter two having multiple stomachs,” Leaft Co-Founder Dr. John Penno said. “But while it’s trapped inside a plant cell, it’s hard for humans to eat enough leaves for a sufficient serving of protein, let alone digest all of that plant matter. Our technology forges a new way to tap plant protein that is tasty, nutritious, scalable, and accessible for everyone. It’s truly transformational.”

Leaft claims that its new protein is capable of providing enough food to feed the entire population using just two percent of o the world’s agricultural land. Beyond sustainability, Leaft's new protein is highly digestible and allergen-free. The company noted that the leaf-based protein contains the same nutrients as animal meat, replicating a similar amino acid profile to beef.

What is Hemp-Based Meat?

Launched on April 5, Crump – the hemp-based meat alternative from The Naturist – spent nearly two decades in development. Designed as one of the most sustainable and healthy plant-based meats, this unconventional protein avoids processed oils, soy, and harmful fats with little environmental impact. The Estonian start-up's new hemp-based protein consumes 400 times less water and produces 24 times fewer carbon emissions than beef. The highly sustainable protein is also highly versatile, designed to cook into a variety of cuisines.

“For every team member at Naturist, Crump is a personal endeavor,” CEO and Founder of The Naturist Jürgen Jürgenson said. “ Crump finally gives us this incredible opportunity. Through our unique refining technology using two of nature’s own superfoods, hemp, and pea, Crump is the world’s first vegan meat that packs more protein and less fat than meat while maintaining a balanced amino acid profile.”

The Naturist also highlights the unseen health benefits of hemp consumption. Calling it an “underrated superfood,” the company revealed that hemp is a nutrient substitute perfect for vegans. Hemp consists of 54 percent pure plant-based protein, 15 percent fiber, 25 percent carbohydrates, and 0 percent trans fat. Noting that some vegans give up a plant-based diet due to nutritional deficits, the company aims to provide a helping hand to boost proper nutrient consumption.

“Since my teenage years, I have always been very involved in tackling the issue of climate change, focusing my attention on sustainable initiatives and lifestyle choices to tread lighter on the planet and reduce my own environmental impact,” Co-Founder at The Naturist Taavid Mikomägi, “After years of maintaining a plant-based lifestyle, I, like many other vegans, felt I had to give it up due to the health issues I was suffering, provoked by the lack of protein and consuming unhealthy vegan meat options.”

Sold as dry granules, Crump is shelf-stable and easily stored. With just a little warm water, this innovative protein acts like minced meat. The neutral taste is designed for better versatility when cooking. Consumers can purchase the new protein on the IndieGoGo platform starting this month.

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