BOSTON — Animal-free ingredient technology company Motif FoodWorks is teaming up with the University of Queensland (U.Q.), Brisbane, Australia, to improve the texture of plant-based meat alternatives. The partnership will focus on in-vitro processing, a new method of assessing mouthfeel qualities developed by U.Q. researchers.

Texture remains one of the most significant sensory gaps between current plant-based meats and their animal-derived counterparts, Motif said. Meeting the texture expectations of consumers presents a major challenge for brands looking to compete in an increasingly competitive market.

The partnership is the first time in-vitro oral processing will be applied to meat analogs. Food scientists typically rely on in-vivo testing when formulating a new product. This type of research uses trained sensory panelists who tell researchers how well a new product simulates the traditional version.

“This process can be expensive, time-consuming and often subjective, since perceptions can vary based on factors like a person’s saliva flow rate and composition,” said Stefan Baier, food science lead at Motif FoodWorks.

In-vitro refers to research performed outside of a living organism. These types of experiments assess physical properties that are then linked back to sensory perception.

“Oral processing is an essential driver behind the consumer acceptance of food,” Jason Stokes, director of research at U.Q.’s School of Chemical Engineering. “By focusing on the physics, rather than the opinion of the chewer, we can get a more accurate and universal read of what makes food enjoyable to eat. Our work with the Motif team will enable them to translate that knowledge for the production of better, more texturally similar meat analogs moving forward.”