Thanks to a recent $12 million investment in Boston-based startup Tender Food by environmentally driven investment firm Lowercarbon Capital, actress Natalie Portman, and others, plant-based pulled pork, vegan chicken breasts, meatless steak, and other realistic meats are one step closer to coming to market. Tender, which debuted in 2020, stands apart in a world increasingly dominated by plant-based ground meats by focusing on fibrous, whole-muscle meats that rip apart like the genuine thing.
While at Harvard University, Tender’s creators invented this unique method, which spins chemicals into strands that simulate muscle fibers. Tender has exclusive rights to the breakthrough technology, which may be used to make plant-based and cultured meats whose flavor, texture, and nutritional value are similar to their animal-derived counterparts without the need of additives or fillers.
Prior to founding Tender, CEO and Co-Founder Christophe Chantre worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. In a statement, Chantre said, “Our ambition is to make products that are indistinguishable from butchered meat,” Chantre said in a statement. “By recreating the textures and fibers of animal-based meats, we can ensure that no matter what cut of meat you want, a plant-based product from Tender is what you reach for.”
Kevin Kit Parker, PhD, is the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where he co-founded Chantre. He was also an Associate Faculty member of Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, where he collaborated with Chantre.
“The texture of real meat has been very difficult to imitate with current alternative meat texturizing solutions… Our technology’s ability to replicate the architecture and mechanics of animal muscle in a plant-based protein food item, while meeting the nutritional goals of protein consumption, should impact the industry significantly,” Parker stated.
Tender’s first products are set to ship later this year, thanks to the additional investment, and the company’s founders are excited to bring a plant-based meat to market that will help disrupt the devastating animal agriculture industry—a goal shared by Tender’s investors. “The roughly six billion carnivorous humans that eat meat drive about 15 percent of total carbon emissions… Cheers to the vegans, but to win over everybody else you need steaks and chops made from plants that are just as tasty off the grill as what gets cleaved off a carcass,” Chris Sacca, co-founder of Lowercarbon Capital stated.
Tender has previously demonstrated that their plant-based pulled pork is indistinguishable from animal meat, with taste tests conducted in collaboration with local chefs leaving visitors unsure whether they were eating plants or pigs.
Natalie Portman’s Investment
Portman’s investment in Tender is the latest step toward a vegan future for the actress. Portman assisted French upstart La Vie in raising $28 million earlier this year to bring its plant-based bacon to the public. The business patented their vegan bacon composition, which includes a plant-based reproduction of animal fat, after testing 5,000 recipes in an attempt to authentically reproduce the pig product using plants. La Vie intends to use the funds to expand its distribution beyond Carrefour in France to include the United Kingdom and other regions of Europe.
Portman, together with Oprah Winfrey, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz, and Roc Nation, an entertainment agency founded by musician Jay-Z, is an investor in dairy-free company Oatly. The vegan actress has utilized her position to raise awareness about a range of problems, including the anti-feminist act of eating eggs and dairy, as well as the environmental devastation caused by animal agriculture.
After becoming hooked with her viral culinary videos, which featured recipes for vegan matzo ball soup, matcha doughnuts, and Buffalo cauliflower wings, Jimmy Fallon invited Portman to his late-night program in 2020.
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