TODAY

TODAY   |  April 25, 2014

‘Meatless’ meat: Is it the future?

Some big names in technology, including Bill Gates and the founders of Twitter, think they’ve figured out a way to get the masses to eat mock meat, and they’re betting it could change the world. NBC’s Craig Melvin reports.

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>>> have been around for decades, but getting the masses to chew on mock meat has been difficult. nbc's craig melvin is here with more.

>> looks like chicken , right?

>> tastes like chicken , right?

>> we'll see. we're going to get you guys to do a taste test in a few moments. but bill gates and the guys who started twitter, they're already sold. they are betting millions that this could change the world .

>> this is the beginning of the ultimate free range chicken .

>> chickens and chows might like this plant outside columbia, missouri.

>> it's all loaded into the system right here.

>> in the world of mock meat , ethan brown thinks what's sliding off this conveyer belt is the perfect fake. just don't call it that.

>> i sort of bristle at the use of the word fake when people talk about our product. i completely disagree with that. it's an assembly of amino acids, fat and water that is just like what you get out of an animal.

>> his product is a hodgepodge of proteins from mainly this, peas and plants.

>> it doesn't look like a pea to me.

>> there's no starch to it and there's very little fat. it's all protein that's been extracted from the pea.

>> the extract is then put through a secret process. it's a high-tech recipe that caught the attention of the men who started twitter. they've invested millions and so has billionaire philanthropist bill gets, who blogged about how impressed he was and even met with brown a few times.

>> he said if you can drop the price of this well below meat and get international contribution, you can make a huge contribution.

>> reporter: they have also put their money where their mouth is in another plant-based food company. hampton creek foods uses plants to replace a different staple, eggs. their eggless mayonnaise helped the company raise more than $30 million from private investors recently.

>> it is a growing trend, more and more they're looking to appeal to the vegetarian audience and the wider audience of consumers who are interested in healthier products.

>> but brown knows, to take a bite out of the $177 billion animal meat market , his chicken has to taste like chicken . and his new ground beef crumbles like beef.

>> for me, it's been on getting the texture right, so it's seamless for people. they can put it in their favorite dish.

>> as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of good food, i decided to give beyond meat an honest try.

>> that really does taste like chicken .

>> it's convenient. it's already cooked. is all you've got to do is heat it up in a pan with a little bit of oil.

>> this is really good. and their beef --

>> this is chili.

>> can't taste the difference. i would eat this chili. this is actually chili i would eat.

>> the biggest hurdle, converting carnivores, getting people to accept their plant-based product as meat. to do that, they're trying to win over consumers one taste at a time. so, with no cholesterol, no transfats, no hormones, makers of beyond meat say that their product is healthier. they also point out with the soaring cost of meat at 5.49 for a 12-ounce bag of this stuff, it's almost charlie gibson cheaper than chicken . critics say while all of that may be true, it is still actually a processed food . taste test . let's start with the chicken salad . up top. so taste both of those. make sure you get a piece of the chicken . it takes you guys forever. so which one is real, matt lauer , and which one is fake?

>> this is real chicken , that's fake chicken .

>> this is real.

>> real on the right.

>> how about real is on the left.

>> no.

>> real is on the left.

>> is that true?

>> matt knew.

>> there you go.

>> carson daly , you got it wrong.

>> it's great, though.

>> i guess you are a loser after all.

>> let's go to the beef.

>> wow, that's crazy.

>> you guys are -- it's like being at my house.

>> you're not supposed to talk with your mouth full.

>> no, you're not.

>> and the company says --

>> it's hard to tell.

>> real is on the right again?

>> real is on the left.

>> again i got it wrong?

>> the real beef is on the left. the beyond beef son the right. the company is also coming out with hamburgers so you won't be able to tell the difference.

>> and they're coming out with a fake ronald mcdonald . that's kind of cool.

>> that's very cool.

>> it's good.

>> impressive.

>> let's go over to natalie.