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Science Fare: How One Canadian Food Scientist’s Work is Tackling Big Issues

Filiz Koksel’s innovative research on plant-based meat alternatives addresses the twin challenges of climate change and food insecurity

A woman with brown hair stands in a science lab wearing a white coat, and behind her are machines lined up on a table.

Courtesy of Thomas Fricke

Filiz Koksel loves playing with food. The bubbles in bread dough, puffed snacks and breakfast cereals have occupied her scientific attention for years. “I’m fascinated by how bubbles change their shape and size and, at the end, contribute substantially to the end-product quality.” But it’s not all fun and games for this Turkish-Canadian food scientist, researcher and associate professor at the University of Manitoba

Currently, she’s investigating how extrusion technology—the kind used to manufacture many processed foods—can be used to make plant protein–enriched snacks, cereals and plant-based meat alternatives. It’s a timely topic. Koksel understands that a rapidly growing world population requires a shift away from animal protein consumption to protein derived from plants. 

“Plant-based food products have lower carbon and water footprints,” Koksel points out. Her research team is working on projects related to plant-based meat alternatives and how to add value to industry by-products, such as the spent grain left over from beer-making. 

One study investigates how texturized vegetable proteins made using extrusion technology could replace, partially, the meat in common foods. Koksel’s next mission: preparing new food scientists for careers in the Canadian industry and readying them to meet the challenges of the future. 

“The next generation of food scientists will make more plant-based alternatives accessible to Canadians, for better health and a better environment,” Koksel says.

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