CAHNR Alum Taoran Wang works to improve plant-based meat substitutes
Taoran Wang combines his long-standing passion for food with his training at UConn to develop innovation for the plant-based food company, Beyond Meat.
Wang came to College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources from China to obtain his master’s degree in paramedical sciences. During her master’s program, Wang realized that she was passionate about food science and decided to continue her studies at UConn. Wang has completed his doctorate. in Nutritional Sciences in 2019.
Wang has always been interested in the cultivation of food. She was able to learn more about this at UConn during her first year of PhD. in a course on food culture and society.
She learned that many people in East and Southeast Asia have long subscribed to plant-based diets, which linked her interest in food cultivation with her concern for environmental sustainability.
Wang’s research thesis with Associate Professor Yangchao Luo focused on the creation of nanoscale distribution vesicles for bioactive compounds using natural biomaterials like lipids and proteins. This work is relevant to food science because it can aid in the production of functional foods that provide additional nutrients or have other desirable properties.
“It made me so, so, so interested in research, especially food science,” Wang says. “This is the start of everything.”
Wang’s experience with Luo, who has a background in food science, gave him an understanding of how food and nutritional science go hand in hand. This has been important to Wang’s current work at Beyond Meat.
“It was a good combination of food science and nutritional science knowledge and that’s what we need in this business,” Wang said.
After graduating from UConn, Wang worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State University. There she developed edible food packaging. These polymeric coatings are said to be a safe and durable way to extend the shelf life of a food while eliminating plastic waste.
Wang is currently working as a biopolymer scientist at Beyond Meat in California. Beyond Meat is one of the largest plant-based meat substitute companies.
Wang’s work with Beyond Meat taps into a longstanding concern for sustainability. The current practices of the meat industry are having a huge negative impact on the planet. Large farms use huge amounts of land, water and other resources while generating harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
“I really care about global environmental issues,” Wang says. “It could reduce the land and energy used to produce real animal meat.”
At Beyond Meat, Wang and other scientists continually strive to improve their products so that they are more like the sensory experience of animal meat. Beyond Meat’s products aim to capture the taste, texture, smell and cooking experience of meat. They also seek to mimic the nutritional content of animal meat.
A key to Wang’s process is collaboration. In addition to her own team, she works regularly with the formulation and protein teams to ensure that what her group does will work for the product as a whole.
“We have to work as a team to make significant improvement,” Wang said. “Even though we come from different backgrounds, we are all working towards the same goal.
Another key to Wang’s work at Beyond Meat is the freedom that is afforded him.
“If you’ve got an idea you want to try, that’s fine,” Wang says. “Our company really encourages people to be more creative and to try different things.”
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