Bioreactors are the unsung heroes of the food tech industry, playing a vital role in improving the quality, affordability, and sustainability of plant-based foods. Originally a mainstay in pharmaceutical and biotech sectors, they've become increasingly common in plant-based food production. Take Perfect Day, for instance; its co-founders have harnessed fermentation techniques to turn yeast and sugar into milk protein.
Why Bioreactors Are Used in Plant-Based Foods
Bioreactors provide a stable and controlled environment for cellular growth, thereby boosting yield and ensuring product consistency. This is crucial for creating high-quality, affordable, and reliable plant-based foods, which are frequently highly-processed.
Common Types of Bioreactors
- Stirred-tank: Uses a mechanical impeller to ensure even cell distribution—ideal for large-scale operations.
- Bubble column: Utilizes a sparger to inject gas, oxygenating the culture and removing CO2. This is particularly useful for delicate cells.
- Airlift: Uses airlift to circulate the culture. It's energy-efficient but may not be suitable for all cell types.
Impossible Foods allegedly requires a cell density of 10 grams of heme per liter of culture to flavor their burgers. While this may not sound like a lot, it's generally considered high in cell culture. However, these levels aren't uncommon and can vary depending on the organism. For simpler organisms like bacteria or yeast, even higher densities are typical.
Factors Affecting Yield
- Organism Type: Some organisms grow faster and yield more.
- Process Efficiency: Certain methods optimize yield better.
- Quality: Higher quality may sometimes lead to lower yield.
As bioreactor technology improves, higher yields are likely, which in turn will lower the cost of plant-based foods and expand their accessibility to a broader consumer base. This is likely why industry leaders like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are investing in their own production facilities and customized bioreactors.