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Meet CSIRO’s Aarti Tobin: Solving our meatiest challenges

Emily Lehmann, 19/01/2024

Key points

  • We need to sustainably produce more protein, from more sources, to feed a growing world population.
  • Our Future Protein Mission is looking at ways to get more out of existing sources of protein – like meat, plants and fish – and coming up with new sources to complement them.
  • Dr Aarti Tobin is leading our animal protein production research.

 

OVER her 35-year-career, food technologist Aarti Tobin has dished up meat in new products ranging from beef jerky to protein powder.

Aarti is coming up with clever ways to reinvent and add value to meat.

Aarti now leads research focused on inventing new and creative ways to add value to meat and aquaculture – all while helping to tackle big issues like malnutrition and sustainability.

“Meat is a key source of protein, an essential macronutrient,” Aarti said.

“While most Australians eat enough protein, some age groups are more prone to malnutrition such as infants and the elderly.”

If you take a world view, there are many people who don’t get access to enough protein at all stages of life. Through our Future Protein Mission, Aarti is helping innovate products that will get more protein to those who need it.

Reinventing meat for people with dysphagia

“Through science and technology, we can rethink the foods we eat,” Aarti said.

“For example, during my PhD, I explored how the texture of food impacts on elderly people with dysphagia and their ability to swallow.”

Dysphagia is a medical condition which can arise from various causes such as neurological disorders, muscular diseases, or age-related changes in swallowing mechanisms. It not only affects the ability to consume food and liquids safely but also significantly impacts a person’s quality of life, nutritional status, and psychological well-being.

In response, Aarti cooked up “restructured steaks” in her product development kitchen. Made from raw minced meat and bound together using cold-set binders, the meat is sliced into restructured steaks and cooked.

“Mincing tenderises the meat by breaking up the connective tissue that makes the meat tough,” Aarti said.

“Restructured steaks can be chewed and swallowed more easily.”

Aarti explains that difficulties with eating and swallowing foods as you age takes away one of life’s simple joys, as well as impacts on health. By rethinking foods, we can make the eating experience easier and more enjoyable. It can also recreate a similar eating experience to traditional food.

“It excites me to be able to use science and technology to make a difference to peoples’ lives,” she said.

Adding value, improving sustainability

Aarti has another meaty problem to solve through our Future Protein Mission. She wants to find a sustainable way to add more value from red meat production.

Meaty protein balls could be on the future menu.

 

“I’m looking at how we can increase the value and sustainability of Australia’s biggest agrifood export,” Aarti said.

With a need to produce more protein to feed the world’s growing population, there are big challenges in livestock production – including the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

Aarti is leading a clever new research area: turning nutritious, lower value meat into a high value protein powder.

The “magic meat” powder is high in protein, mild in flavour and highly soluble so can be added to boost the protein in all kinds of foods and beverages, even water.

“High-value cuts like steak only make up about 20 per cent of the meat from the carcass,” Aarti said.

“The remaining meat is considered manufacturing-grade meat and is used to make mince, burgers and the like.”

Creating meat powder from manufacturing-grade meat is a great value-add opportunity for the red meat industry.

Eating meat on the go

Upcycling manufacturing-grade meat could also mean new wellness and snack products as well.

“Sitting down for three meals a day is no longer the norm. People eat on the go,” Aarti said.

A shelf-stable protein powder could see meat expanded into formats like protein balls, snack bars or smoothies – offering convenience as well as those key nutrients. Aarti is working with Meat & Livestock Australia to commercialise the powder for use in products around the globe.

The team are also developing hybrid products that blend plant and animal proteins together – making products like burgers with greater nutritional benefits.

Our Future Protein Mission is also looking at how to grow other sustainable sources of animal protein. This includes kangaroo and a new species of white-flesh fish. In parallel, there’s a focus on a suite of new and plant-based protein sources to complement them.

Aarti said it’s a valuable opportunity for Australia to come up with these innovative, new products. With them, we could help feed a rapidly growing world by 2030 and beyond.

This article was originally published by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency. Read the original article.

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