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MU research helps create chicken substitute

Saturday, December 17, 2011 | 5:42 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — A Maryland-based company using MU research plans to launch a new soy-based chicken substitute that tastes just like, well, chicken.

Savage River Farms plans to produce and sell the product in markets across the country through food service companies, hospitals, universities and corporate dining operations.

The company entered into an intellectual property licensing agreement late last year with the university that requires Savage River to establish a presence in Missouri within five years.

The Columbia Tribune reported the chicken substitute uses research that MU biological engineering professor Fu-Hung Hsieh has spent more than 20 years developing.

Rob Duncan, the university's vice chancellor for research, said the physical presence stipulation is a fairly new tactic that has become a trend nationwide.

"If we can, we'll always try to negotiate that because that brings jobs," Duncan said.

Savage River founder and president Ethan Brown said it's tough to tell the difference between the substitute and name brand chicken products. It uses soy protein to mimic the taste, feel and appearance of chicken.

"You can basically put this product head-to-head with an Oscar Mayer chicken strip," Brown said. "It's very difficult ... to tell the difference between the two."

Brown says his company will start selling the product in the first quarter of 2012.

The university owns a small stake in the company. While Savage River Farms could establish a presence anywhere in the state, under the licensing agreement, Duncan said he is optimistic the company would want to locate near the university.

"You can't really transfer the technology without transferring the technologists," he said.

Hsieh said it has been a thrill to watch his research on soy proteins turn into a viable product.

"I'm pretty excited," he said. "This is a dream for lots of researchers. They want what they have done in the laboratory to become a commercial entity."

He said he eventually hopes to develop a method to mimic other types of meats using different protein sources.

"We've found out it's not limited to the chicken type," Hsieh said. "We may be able to mimic beef, pork or even fish."


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