CSIC co-develops a “vegetable meat” using a Mediterranean legume

This ingredient is low in saturated fat, rich in dietary fibre and its composition is based on carob. The product, called Leggie, has been developed by researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Francisco de Vitoria University (UFV), and will be marketed by the Spanish company MRM.

Researchers Marta Miguel (CSIC) (right) and Marta Garcés (UFV) have developed Leggie, a product with a similar appearance and texture to that of meat, but healthier.Marta Miguel, researcher from the CSIC, and Marta Garcés, researcher from the UFV, have developed a new ingredient of vegetable origin which shares a similar appearance and texture to that of meat. However, it is a healthier food, as it is low in saturated fats and cholesterol, rich in dietary fibre and more sustainable.

This project has led to the set up of the company iLike Food Innovation S. L. through the Dinamiza project, which was granted a RIS3 aid from the Community of Madrid in the 2018 call for proposals. 

Marta Miguel declares that "setting up a technology-based company to develop and market the product has been a complicated process, and even more so in our case since we were caught in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We set up the company on 12th June 2020, but the initial plan was to set it up on 18th March 2020, so everything had to be postponed, including the industrial scale-up. However, despite all these setbacks, we made it. We have had to put a lot of energy and motivation into the process, because as scientists we had to step out of our comfort zone.”

Marketed through the Leggie brand, this new product is made with a cereal and legume base, contains no additives or allergens, and is a product with great versatility and multiple gastronomic applications, at an affordable price. "This is an ingredient that can be used in many culinary dishes, as a topping for pizzas or salads, as a filling for pies or lasagne, and also to make bolognese, hamburgers, sausages, etc.", says UFV researcher Marta Garcés.

The ingredient, protected by trade secret and sub-licenced to the Spanish company MRM, was presented on the 20th May 2021 at the CSIC headquarters in Madrid and is expected to reach supermarkets in early summer.

One of the most innovative aspects of Leggie is the use of carob, a legume of Mediterranean origin that, apart from its quality proteins and its high digestibility, has a low water and carbon footprint. According to its inventors, Marta Miguel, a researcher at the Institute of Food Science Research, a joint centre of the CSIC and the Autonomous University of Madrid (CIAL-CSIC-UAM, by its Spanish acronym), and Marta Garcés, a researcher and professor at the UFV, it is a product aimed not only at vegan or vegetarian consumers, but also at all those seeking to reduce their meat intake, whether it is for ethical, health or religious reasons or because of the impact the beef sector has on the planet.

"The number of plant-based alternatives to meat on the market grows, but they tend to be highly processed products that include a large number of ingredients and additives of dubious nutritional quality," explains researcher Marta Miguel. "Our product, as it is produced with only six natural ingredients, is a healthier and more balanced option compared to other similar foods currently on the market," she adds.

Lasagna cooked with Leggie.Another advantage is its high dietary fibre content, the consumption of which is deficient in Spain and other developed countries. Fibre is a dietary factor that prevents various chronic diseases and it presents several main beneficial effects: increases satiety, delayes glucose and cholesterol absorption, increases intestinal motility associated with an improvement in constipation, and it also presents a significant beneficial effect on the intestinal microbiome.

Leggie will be packaged using high hydrostatic pressure (HPP) technology to avoid the use of preservatives in the final product. Researchers especially highlight its good nutritional properties, but also underline its organoleptic characteristics, which make it easily adaptable, achieving a sensory experience very close to the original dish or recipe. In addition to all of this the product is easy to use.

Successful transfer to the industrial fabric

The launch of Leggie is a successful example of technology transfer from the laboratory to the food industry through the set up of iLike Food Innovation S.L., a technology-based company of the CSIC and the UFV, as well as through the use of different industrial property figures among those established by law, such as: patent, trade secret and registration of the Leggie ingredient brand (at national and European level), depending on strategic needs.

"From the CSIC's Deputy Vice-Presidency for Knowledge Transfer, we have worked to strengthen the product options and thus reach the market, starting with an initial assessment of the results and selecting the best possible strategy in terms of industrial property according to the requirements of the moment," says Javier Etxabe, head of the CSIC's Industrial property and entrepreneurship area.

"This project was possible thanks to the close collaboration between CSIC and UFV researchers, and includes the set up of the company iLiKe Food Innovation S. L. through the Dinamiza project, awarded in the 2018 call for RIS3 grants from the Community of Madrid and co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the Community and the CSIC, with the aim of promoting scientific entrepreneurship. Finally, the CSIC and the UFV have signed a licence for the technology with the company iLike Food and authorised a sub-licence to the company MRM to be able to launch the product on the market in record time,” he adds.

The product will be marketed by MRM, a Madrid-based company with more than 60 years of experience, which has participated in all the development phases of Leggie's creation. "Thanks to this public and private collaboration, the product will be marketed through large superstores and supermarkets both nationally and internationally," highlights Jorge Fernández, commercial director of MRM.

Contact

iLike Food Innovation S.L.