This designer is making gourmet food out of chicken feathers #Breaking112
“High-quality meat is tender and juicy — it has a melt-in-the-mouth texture,” says Kittibanthorn. “So I wanted my meat to have these aspects.”
Visually, the meat substitute lives up to the description: it’s used to make a rich, red, raw-looking “beef tartare” and a salt-water infused “fish fillet.” Delicately plated, the dishes wouldn’t look out of place in a chic Manhattan restaurant.
But the protein’s central ingredient is more often found in landfills or on the kill floor of slaughterhouses: chicken feathers.
The human body can’t digest feathers, but they are 90% keratin — a protein that’s found in nails and hair — and packed with nutritious amino acids. Kittibanthorn makes feathers edible by breaking down the protein using a process called acid hydrolysis.
It was this high-value protein content that first got Kittibanthorn’s attention. Partnering with food scientist Keshavan Niranjan from the UK’s University of Reading and biology lab technician Shem Johnson from Central Saint Martins, he developed a 13-step process to break down the feathers into a digestible form.
The feathers are cleaned, pulverized and placed in a water bath with acid and keratinase — an enzyme that severs keratin’s strong chemical bonds. The solution is gently heated and constantly stirred for 12 to 24 hours, before being filtered and cooled.
In his experiments with the feather-based protein, Kittibanthorn created carb-free pasta and wraps, and protein bar biscuits. He also tested different binding agents to create a texture, color and consistency that would mimic high-quality meat. The feather “meat” has no taste, says Kittibanthorn, and relies on seasoning for flavor.
Trash to treasure
This huge amount of waste creates an opportunity for those embracing a zero waste mentality — and Kittibanthorn isn’t the only one to see it.
The chemical and physical properties of feathers mean they have a lot of other potential uses, says the company’s CEO, Edvard Hall, adding that Bioextrax is also conducting research into feather-based bioplastics and insulation material.
Hall says Bioextrax hopes to license its technology to slaughterhouses and waste management companies to help them create a “circular protein system.”
While the company has pursued turning feathers into animal feed because the market is more “straightforward,” Hall says there’s no reason that it couldn’t also work for people. “It could be used as a protein supplement for humans, without any changes in the process,” he says.
Cultural perceptions are still a barrier, though. Hall compares the feather-based protein to food made from insects, and says that “some people might find it a bit disgusting.” Additionally, as it’s derived from animals, it misses out on the vegan market. But in the long run, he doesn’t see this as a problem.
“It derives from something that is currently being thrown away and not utilized,” says Hall, “so from a sustainability perspective, it’s definitely a good protein source.”
While we might not be seeing chicken feathers on our dinner plates any time soon, Kittibanthorn hopes his novel approach to waste and the elegant presentation of the sample dishes will help people accept quirky ingredients like feather “meat.”
The technology is out there already, he says, but our attitude and approach to waste in the food ecosystem needs to change. Zero-waste food products like the feather protein are a “symbol” of how we can improve the the future, says Kittbanthorn.
“It’s showing empathy for the world,” he says. “It’s showing what we stand for.”