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Fields & Applications Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometry, Food, Beverage & Agriculture

Eau De Boeuf?

As plant-based meat alternatives become increasingly popular, food companies continue to pour time, money, and resources into creating the ultimate no-beef burger. But mimicking the taste, texture, appearance, and smell of the real thing is no mean feat. Now, researchers have used GC-MS to determine the quintessential “meaty” odor of a classic patty and pitted veggie alternatives against each other.

“During the last several years, increasing awareness of the impact of meat production on climate change, as well as meat shortages during the pandemic, have made people more accepting of plant-based alternatives,” said principal investigator LiLi Zyzak in a press release (1). “There are a lot of products out there, and food companies are doing interesting research, but nobody ever publishes anything because it’s a trade secret.”

“The problem with plant-based burgers is that the plant protein itself contributes a strong odor,” said Zyzak. “For example, pea protein smells like green, cut grass, so companies have to find a way to mask that aroma. Some use heavy seasonings.”

The team started by comparing the odor compounds of plant-based burgers with those of the real thing. First, they cooked the various patties and simply described the smell – meaty, fatty, buttery, sweet, or roasted. Next, they used GC-MS (combined with olfactometry) to correlate the aromas with specific compounds. Volatiles were injected into the GC-MS and some diverted to a sniffing port where a person described the odor. The rest of the sample was then analyzed by MS to match specific compounds with each descriptor.

So who came out on top? Beyond Meat’s burger most closely resembled the odor profile of a traditional hamburger, with compounds 1-octen-3-ol, octanal, and nonanal contributing to its meaty aroma. In the future, Zyzak plans to create a complete odor profile for beef burgers.

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  1. ACS (2021). Available at:
About the Author
Lauren Robertson

By the time I finished my degree in Microbiology I had come to one conclusion – I did not want to work in a lab. Instead, I decided to move to the south of Spain to teach English. After two brilliant years, I realized that I missed science, and what I really enjoyed was communicating scientific ideas – whether that be to four-year-olds or mature professionals. On returning to England I landed a role in science writing and found it combined my passions perfectly. Now at Texere, I get to hone these skills every day by writing about the latest research in an exciting, creative way.

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