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By  Emily Lehmann 15 January 2024 3 min read

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 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. 

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

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. 

[Music plays and a split circle appears and photographs of different CSIRO activities flash through in either side of the circle, and then the circle morphs into the CSIRO logo]

[Image changes to show Aarti Tobin talking to the camera, and text appears: Dr Aarti Tobin, CSIRO] 

I'm Aarti Tobin. I'm a food technologist and a scientist. 

[Image changes to show a close side facing view of Aarti talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show photos of raw red meat, and then cooking red meat being brushed with marinade]

The focus of my work has been on animal protein, especially focusing on value adding to the largest agri-food export that we have in Australia, which is red meat.

[Image changes to show an aerial view of a herd of cows, and then the image changes to show a close view of cows in a paddock]

One of the challenges with livestock production is greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts.

[Image changes to show a facing close view of cows looking through a fence, and then the image changes to show a cow sitting in green grass]

So we have to take that into consideration to make sure that we get the best value out of the animal. 

[Image changes to show a close view of Aarti talking to the camera, and then the camera zooms out a little on Aarti]

In a carcass, only 40 to 45% of it is meat.

[Image changes to show a close view of Aarti talking to the camera]

Eighty percent of that is what we call manufacturing meat, it is the meat that you would then use in mince or make burgers out of it.

[Images move through to show a close view of minced red meat, and then a close view of cubed red meat being cooked]
So we are looking at adding value to the manufacturing grade meat and the other by and co-products from the animal. 

[Images move through to show a lump of red meat being sliced, and then red meat being placed into a freezer]

One of the challenges with meat is that it has to be kept chilled or frozen to keep it safe for consumption. 

[Images move through to show a butcher placing meat into the shop counter display, meat being packed into a bag, and then a close view of beef jerky]

Meat is not shelf-stable as such. The only shelf-stable form of meat that you can get in the supermarket is beef jerky. 

[Images move through to show a shopper selecting meat from a shelf, butchers working on cutting up meat, and then mince falling into a bowl]

And what we're trying to do is we're trying to bring meat in a space that it actually doesn't exist at the moment. So what we're trying to do is make meat into a generic protein. 

[Images move through to show Aarti talking to the camera, a close view of Aarti talking to the camera, a close view of protein powder in a jar, and a view looking down on the powder in the jar]

We're taking our manufacturing grade meat, which is our lower value meat, we're adding enzymes to it, we're breaking down the protein, we're going through a series of separation processes, and we end up with this powder, which is odorless, colourless, and with neutral flavour. 

[Images move through to show a hand running through the powder, a male taking a protein ball from a plate and eating it, protein bars on a board, and raw mince and protein balls on plates side by side]

We're using this high protein powder that we produce in value add products like protein balls, protein shakes, protein bars, and this protein can be used to replace our dairy-based protein and plant-based proteins.

[Image changes to show Aarti talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show a close view of Aarti talking to the camera]

When we're coming up with innovations in the food space, it's really important to make sure that we are taking consumer preferences and needs into consideration. 

[Image changes to show powder being put in a conical flask, and then the image changes to show mince and protein balls on two plates side by side]

Offering meat in a dry, shelf-stable format with loads of nutrients could do just that.

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