From Fabanaise to Faba Butter... aquafaba is the star ingredient in new plant-based spread debuting at the Fancy Food Show
The brainchild of Brooklyn-based vegans Andrew McClure and Aidan Altman, Faba Butter uses aquafaba – which Fora buys from hummus producers who would otherwise throw it away – to bind water, coconut oil and a plant-based liquid oil (full details will be released shortly).
This creates a butter alternative with a “really creamy, dairy-like mouthfeel” that “tastes, cooks, bakes, spreads and melts like butter,” said Altman, who says he has had encouraging feedback from retail and foodservice buyers looking for something new in the category.
“We’ve worked with some vegan chefs and they tell us that it’s the most functional butter alternative on the market that they have worked with,” he told FoodNavigator-USA. “You can make perfectly airy crisp croissants where every other butter alternatives fall short. It means consumers don’t have to compromise.
“Aquafaba [which absorbs some of the proteins and starches from the chickpeas] is a great clean label, natural emulsifier. But from a sensory perspective, it also adds a depth of flavor, which allows us to mimic that of grass-fed dairy butter.”
But is there a sizeable market opportunity here, or are consumers already well-served by plant-based buttery spreads* developed by brands such as Country Crock, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Earth Balance, Smart Balance, and Melt Organics, some of which have already introduced coconut-oil-based products?
Absolutely, claimed Altman, who is also working on a range of other aquafaba-fueled products from whipped cream to dressings and frostings.
Faba Butter, he argued, has a cleaner label and a more appealing brand proposition than some of the big names in the butter alternative category, which have lost traction with Millennials and Gen Z shoppers.
“We do not use any natural flavors or colors as nearly all of our competitors do, and we do not use any preservatives like EDTA.”
While Melt Organics uses coconut oil as a base for its dairy-free buttery spread (along with flaxseed, sunflower, palm and canola oils), it uses annatto and natural flavors, and “virgin coconut oil, which means there is a lower smoke point and melt point than ours,” he claimed.
"Aquafaba butter is essentially saturated fat from coconut, palm, avocado, etc [Fora's Faba Butter uses coconut oil, but no palm oil], with a dash of unsaturated oil to soften its consistency and make it spreadable and an emulsifier [aquafaba] to stabilize the emulsion.
Kudos to Fora for using aquafaba as the emulsifier for its combination of liquid oil and solid fat based analog of butter and to create such a buzz even before launching its product. It will be interesting to see how Fora's aquafaba butter will function in frostings, cookies, and how it will compete in an already crowded aisle against other branded vegan butters from Earth Balance, Miyoko’s Creamery, Wayfare, Smart Balance, Melt Organic, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and Ellyndale Organics.
Historically, chia, flax, nuts, and soapwort (saponins) have been used as plant-based emulsifiers in vegan meringues, omelettes, and baked goods. Aquafaba is a recent entry into this group and functions as a flavor enhancer (because of its protein content), thickener (because of its starches), and emulsifier (because of its starches, proteins, and free sugars, all of which play a role).
Aquabutter is not new to me. I tasted an aquafaba butter at the NY Fancy Food Show, about 3 years ago. It was partially inspired by the recipes for peanut butter and vegan mayo recipes where aquafaba or other legume proteins emulsify the fats and oils."
Kantha Shelke, principal, Chicago-based food science and research firm Corvus Blue
A cleaner label
Fora is “going to be working with a large-scale national co-packer,” to support a spring launch, added Altman, who co-founded snack foods company Spice Foods in 2016, while co-founder Andrew McClure spent two years at investment banking firm Houlihan Lokey after graduating, covering deals involving brands from Stacy’s Pita Chips and Plum Organics to thinkThin and Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP.
“We’ve been speaking with many large scale retail and foodservice accounts and we’re about to do a pre-seed fund raising round to support this campaign.”
He added: “Dairy butter uses so much land, water, food… we aim to create a more sustainable choice with no concessions on flavor or functionality.”
Although aquafaba is new to most Americans, there is a growing community of aquafaba fans on faceboook and other social media platforms that use in in recipes at home, while the success of Fabanaise has also raised the ingredient’s profile, he said.
What’s in a name?
But what about the use of the word ‘butter’ in the brand name, which might be preceded by the word ‘faba,’ but may still raise eyebrows in the trade given that other butter alternatives have carefully avoided the word ‘butter’ on product labels? (FDA regulations stipulate that butter must contain 80% milk fat by weight.)
Moreover, given that this is basically a coconut oil based spread that uses a small quantity of aquafaba as an emulsifier, isn't it a bit misleading to describe it as 'faba butter' given that coconut oil, and not aquafaba, is the primary ingredient?
According to Altman, who noted that the term 'butter' is clearly preceded by the term 'faba' or ‘plant-based’ on the front of the pack, said he had taken legal advice and was comfortable with the use of the term 'butter' on the products, which are likely to be priced competitively with “grass-fed artisan butter products.”
As for the high billing for faba, vs, say, the coconut oil, "a little goes a long way," he said, noting that it was the aquafaba which gave the product its distinctive properties.
Standards of identity: The FDA raised eyebrows in 2016 by telling Hampton Creek it could keep its ‘Just Mayo’ brand name for its egg-free spread (which does not comply with the standard of identity for mayonnaise), albeit with minor tweaks to the label, just weeks after accusing it of violating said standard.
Tom Vierhile: I would imagine dairy producers would not be very happy about calling a non-dairy product 'butter'
So what do trend-watchers think of the product?
Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director at GlobalData, told us he was intrigued by the product, which attempted to leverage the plant-based trend (many butter alternatives are by nature plant-based - with the exception of those using natural flavors from milk proteins - but do not necessarily market themselves as such), although he was “surprised that they can actually call this 'butter'.”
He added: “I would imagine dairy producers would not be very happy about calling a non-dairy product ‘butter.’”
As for aquafaba, he said, it was not an ingredient that most Americans have heard of, although the success of products such as Fabanaise shows consumers are willing to embrace new things.
“I would be willing to bet a lot more people have heard of 'Aqualung' (callout to Jethro Tull there) than have heard of ‘aquafaba,’ and this sort of ingredient is likely to be a head scratcher for the average American consumer. I did a Google Trends search on ‘aquafaba’ and the US isn’t even in the top five regions for consumers searching on the term. This suggests that making this an ingredient story based on aquafaba could be a heavy lift."
* Most of these brands blend oils such as soy, palm oil, canola and in some cases coconut oil, emulsify them with water via soy or sunflower lecithin, and sometimes add pea protein, natural colors and flavors, plus vitamins in some cases.