We're going to predict right now that 2012 will be a joyous year for chickens all across Missouri: There will be not one, but two soy chicken products on the market! Little birds, rejoice.
Nearly two years ago, Gut Check learned that Fu-hung Hsieh, a professor of biological engineering and food science at the University of Missouri, had developed a way to make a chicken breast without harming any chickens. Hsieh's chicken breast was made from soy protein and looked a lot like a skinless, boneless chicken breast, provided you ignore that it comes from a metal extruder.
The concept was a familiar one to us, since a few months earlier Riverfront Times had run a feature story about Alison Burgess, the creator of Match, a line of soy- and wheat gluten-based meat-like products that included -- you guessed it -- chicken. The Match product simulated ground chicken, not the whole breast, and it tasted -- there really is no other way to say it -- like chicken.
We wrote to Hsieh and challenged him to a throwdown. Alas, he wrote back, that would be impossible, since his soy chicken was still in the developmental stages and flavorless.
But things have changed. The Columbia Tribune reports that Mizzou has entered into an intellectual property licensing agreement with Savage River Farms, a company based in Cumberland, Maryland, and that Hsieh's chicken will hit the market early next year.
The product, as yet nameless, will be sold only through wholesalers at first, Ethan Brown, Savage River Farms' founder and president, told the Tribune. The company will limit its sales to institutions such as hospitals, corporations and universities; after a few years, it will expand the brand to include restaurants and retail.
As part of the licensing agreement, Savage River Farms will be required to move at least part of its operations to Missouri within the next five years. Rob Duncan, Mizzou's vice-chancellor for research, believes it would make the most sense if the company came to the Columbia area. "You can't really transfer the technology without transferring the technologists," he said.
According to Brown, the soy chicken is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. "You can basically put this product head-to-head with an Oscar Mayer chicken strip," he said. OK, maybe a version of the real thing, but if you look at the video below, you can see his point.
Hsieh, who has been working on developing soy chicken for twenty years, is very excited to see his research actually make it to market. He has plans to compete with Match on other fronts. "We've found out it's not limited to the chicken type," he said. "We may be able to mimic beef, pork or even fish."
Gut Check is going to try to get our paws on some of this new chicken. Get ready for a soy chicken throwdown -- finally.