Plant-based Creations from the Newest Crop of Food Entrepreneurs

Students trained in Berkeley’s Alt: Meat Lab are serving up meat substitutes and more.
By Maddy Weinberg

At the Alt: Meat Lab, housed in the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, Berkeley students are developing plant-based alternatives to common animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood. Under the tutelage of the Lab’s director and cofounder Dr. Ricardo San Martin, students study the basic principles of food science and collaborate on their own plant-based products. The Lab encourages the use of minimally processed, sustainable ingredients to address the impacts of meat consumption on both health and the environment and connects students with industry leaders. Some graduates of the program have gone on to create their own companies. Here are a few success stories from current and former Alt: Meat Lab students. For more information, check out Episode 8 of California magazine’s podcast The Edge: “Control-Alt-Meat.”

N.Ovo Eggs 

Alt: Meat Lab student Iris Wu is partnering with Brazil-based Mantiqueira to improve the company’s powdered, plant-based egg alternative. Rather than trying to imitate the look and feel of scrambled eggs or omelets, as other popular egg substitutes do, N.Ovo Eggs mimic the binding function that eggs often serve in baking and cooking. 


Prime Roots

Since founding Prime Roots in 2017, Kimberlie Le and Joshua Nixon have put a wide range of plant-based products, including meatless bacon, seafoodless seafood, and ready-to-eat meals like beefless Bolognese and bulgogi, on the market. The secret to their success is a Japanese fungi “superprotein” called Koji, which, according to Prime Roots, “mimics the taste and texture of beef, chicken, and seafood” and “nourishes your body and the planet.”


Impact Food

Don’t be fooled by its sushi-grade appearance—Impact Tuna, the first product from Impact Food, is fully cooked, mercury-free, and made entirely from plants grown in the United States. In 2020, Impact Food, founded by Berkeley trio Adrián Miranda, Kelly Pan, and Stephanie Daffara, won the Hult Prize for their sustainable, “extinction-free” plant-based fish. 




Black Sheep Foods

Black Sheep Foods creators Ismael Montanez and Sunny Kumar want to “raise the baa” in the alternative meat industry. With ingredients like texturized pea protein and refined coconut oil, they believe they can “make plant-based meat taste better than anything currently available.” Though not yet sold in restaurants or grocery stores, Black Sheep Foods’s first product, plant-based lamb, is expected to hit the market soon. 


Sundial Foods

From its delicate skin to the familiar pan sizzle, Sundial Foods’s chickenless drumstick looks an awful lot like the real thing. Sundial cofounders Jessica Schwabach and Siwen Deng, broke with much of the alt-meat industry by only using products that you can find in your kitchen cupboard. Last fall, their whole-cut, vegan chicken was sold in a limited number of supermarkets across Switzerland. 




From the Spring 2021 issue of California.
Image source: Jessica Salaverry Tavares, Erin Ng, Sundial Foods / Collage by Leah Worthington
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