Happy Friday, fellow nerds! I know, I know — another email dropping in your inbox amidst the rush of Black Friday deals. 🎁📦 I promise you won’t find any flashing “% off” CTAs or “absolutely the last chance for this big discount until we release another one on Monday” sales pitches here. Just the latest GreenGut Weekly Find company profile: Air Protein.
Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. ❗ And if it takes off, it could spark a whole new category in the alt protein space.
Air: The “Future of Meat”
Air Protein is a pretty new player on the alt protein scene. Founded in 2019 by CEO Lisa Dyson, the company is using a proprietary probiotic process akin to fermentation to produce what they call “air-based meat.” 💨🥩
If it sounds a little space-age, that’s because it is! The process was inspired by NASA 🚀 science and aims to create a closed-loop carbon cycle with the ability to produce usable proteins in a matter of days, according to the Air Protein website.
But What is It Made Of, Exactly?
Of course, there’s a little more to the process than simply pulling protein out of the air. Production requires gasses naturally present in the environment—including carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen. These are coupled with water and a collection of “mineral nutrients” and processed by hydrogenotrophs, organisms 🦠 that can metabolize hydrogen as an energy source.
It’s a process requiring no pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics hormones, animal cells or plants. The final product is a complete protein in the form of a flour with 80% protein concentration. The addition of vitamins like B12 rounds out the nutritional profile. No further processing or extraction is required before using the Air Protein flour in a variety of products. 🥩🍝🥛
Such versatility—along with the fact that it’s quite likely to be allergen-free—gives air-based proteins the potential to become a go-to ingredient for alt proteins and functional foods.
Hitting the Sustainability Nail on the Head
Should it take off, air-based protein could be one of the most sustainable options for novel meat alternatives. Air, after all, is always in plentiful supply. And because Air Protein’s process uses some of the very gases that sustainable practices seek to reduce, it could possibly be a solution for harnessing excess GHG emissions.
There are several other environmental perks to pulling protein out of the air versus getting it from animals 🐄 or growing it 🌿 in the ground:
Doesn’t require vast tracts of land 🚜
Can be powered using renewable resources
Can be produced in any environment
Results in little or no waste
Of course, decoupling protein from the current food system does create a few possible barriers to widespread adoption. Although Air Protein flour can be formulated into any kind of protein alternative—beef, pork, poultry or seafood 🐟—consumers are still wary of anything that could be considered “frankenfood.”
Consumer education regarding sourcing, processing and production, as well as active participation in research regarding health impacts, will be necessary to help Air Protein and other companies operating in the space dispel any confusion 🤔 or fears.
Production cost 💲💲 may be the only other potential stumbling block. However, given the speed with which the probiotic process can create proteins, the final cost at scale is likely to be much cheaper than any other type of protein formulation.
Air-based protein is still such a new category that it doesn’t get much attention in the alt protein news. I find it pretty fascinating as both a foodie and a nerd, but I’m not quite sure what I think overall yet. 💭 The ability to make food independent of location and with minimal inputs has a lot of potential, but there are also a lot of unknowns ❓ to work out in terms of health and nutritional value.
If we could have a clean, sustainable, healthy protein alternative with little or no downside, would it be the best option? Or should we put our focus on shifting dietary patterns toward whole plant 🌱 foods instead of seeking more protein alternatives? (For the record, I would try protein made from air. I don’t think it’s something I’d be able to pass up, regardless of where I wind up standing on these issues.)
It’s a lot to ponder — but as the food system continues to change and evolve, these are the questions worth asking!
Hungry for more? Tune in to the Modern Health Nerd podcast every Wednesday!