Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A plant-based rib-eye steak is made by Mooji, founded at Harvard. (Photo: Mooji)

It’s an exciting moment to be a vegetarian. Harvard-founded startup Mooji has created a plant-based rib-eye that is being served at a Boston-area steakhouse and got a Valentine’s  menu test at Nubar at Harvard Square’s Sheraton Commander.

Plant-based steaks have been the holy grail of the alternative protein industry, making this an especially impressive accomplishment for Mooji. Companies such as Beyond and Impossible have not yet succeeded at making steaks.

“They have a complex texture that’s very difficult to imitate,” said Insa Mohr, chief executive and co-founder of Mooji. “While burgers and sausages are made from ‘shredded’ proteins, which are simpler to replicate, steaks require mimicking the intricate structure of animal muscles.”

Mohr, who has a master’s degree in information technology and is a self-proclaimed “vegetarian who loves meat,” started Mooji with two fellow researchers from Harvard, Perry W. Ellis and Jochen Mueller. The goal? To make a replacement for the meat she missed most: a rib-eye.

“We initially worked with some of the world’s leading bio-manufacturing processes that were invented to replicate human organs … we added food experience from fine-dining chefs and food scientists,” Mohr said.

The Mooji rib-eye is now available at La Voile in Brookline and had tests at Boston Chops in Downtown Crossing, the Prima Steakhouse and Nubar at the Sheraton Commander. Diners can look for it coming soon to Prima and Veggie Galaxy in Central Square, Mohr said. The price is comparable to real steaks – $40 at La Voile; Mooji believes “plant-based meat will only be successful if it is as affordable as conventional meat.”

Although there have long been options such as Impossible and Beyond for tasty vegan burger patties, Mooji is the first brand presenting a rib-eye and providing a good option for upscale restaurants looking to serve an alternative meat dish.

“One of the first things I noticed is that anyone who wants to cut down on meat is often socially excluded,” Mohr said. She calls her rib-eye a “special occasion dish” and hopes it will become established as something for vegans and vegetarians to reliably order at nice dinners. (At La Voile in Brookline, you can get the Mooji steak over Le Puy lentils and vegan garlic butter. Not bad.)

Next on Mooji’s plate? Getting into more restaurants and starting work on a new kind of meat product, as the manufacturing platform developed for the rib-eye can do all kinds of plant-based whole cuts.

“I would personally love to have a plant-based lamb filet,” Mohr said.