EXPO WEST 2022: ‘It’s something we discovered serendipitously…’ EPG modified plant-based oil has exciting potential in meat alternatives, says Epogee

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

'Designer fat' EPG has exciting potential in plant-based meat, claim Epogee founder David Rowe (left) and chief commercial officer Jayme Caruso (right). Picture: Elaine Watson
'Designer fat' EPG has exciting potential in plant-based meat, claim Epogee founder David Rowe (left) and chief commercial officer Jayme Caruso (right). Picture: Elaine Watson

Related tags EPG Epogee plant-based meat

EPG – a plant-based oil restructured in such a way that virtually none of it is absorbed by the body – has demonstrated intriguing properties in plant-based meat applications, where formulators have struggled to find vegan options that behave like animal fat, says Indiana-based Epogee.

EPG (esterified propoxylated glycerol) - which has gained some traction in confectionery and snacking applications as a means of reducing calories and saturated fat without compromising on taste or texture - can be listed on food labels as ‘EPG (modified plant-based oil),' and has secured a no questions letter from the FDA regarding its GRAS status for multiple applications. 

To make EPG, Epogee splits rapeseed oil (although other oils can also be used) into glycerin and fatty acid, inserts a food-grade link, and reconnects them. The modified fat (EPG) has a melting point of 102˚F, which means it doesn’t liquify when it passes through the body (which typically has a temperature of around 98.6˚F) and has the consistency of soft candlewax."

EPG largely resists digestion because digestive enzymes are prevented from breaking it down, so hardly any of its calories are released, explained chief commercial officer Jayme Caruso, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim last week. To put this into perspective, 1g of fat contains 9 calories, while 1g of EPG contains 0.7 calories.

‘Our fat system has more of a tendency to stay in the substrate during the cooking process’

EPG's potential in plant-based meat applications has only emerged recently, said founder and CTO David Rowe: It was a big surprise… what we're seeing is that the central focus is not cutting calories, but the fact we're delivering all of these sensory attributes and closing the gap between plant-based and animal-based in dairy and meat, and that was something honestly, that was unexpected. We're getting a long, clean finish like dairy fat or tallow.”

Caruso added: “What we're noticing is most plant based meat alternatives are using some combination usually of coconut oil and sunflower oil, or canola, or something like that. These fat systems have have a tendency to bleed out a little during the cooking process because of the heat, so when you bite into them, right, you get a moisture up front, but then there's almost a hollow dryness behind it.

“Because of the unique structure of the EPG molecule, our fat system has more of a tendency to stay in the substrate during the cooking process, and it also kind of semi-solidifies, so when you eat a plant based meat with EPG, you get that upfront moisture and lubricity but then you get a slower almost melt release that coats the mouth and is similar to animal fat."

epogee in lab
'Because of the unique structure of the EPG molecule, our fat system has more of a tendency to stay in the substrate during the cooking process...' Picture credit: Epogee

‘We can actually help improve eating enjoyment without blowing up the nutritional panel’

Caruso observed: “It’s something we kind of discovered serendipitously as we were working on other things. What’s exciting is that we can actually help improve eating enjoyment without blowing up the nutritional panel, because we still have all of these attributes, 92% fewer calories, and fewer labeled grams of saturated fat, and a lot of these ​[plant-based meat] companies are trying to reduce saturated fat.”

As to how EPG might work in, say, a plant-based burger formulation, he said: “You would either replace some portion of your coconut oil blend, or you could add EPG on top of, right so it depends on what you're trying to achieve. What's going to determine the tack you take would be what organoleptic experience you're trying to create, along with where do you want your nutritional panel to be?”

‘It reduced bitter, it burned, and seared [flavor notes], it improved moisture, cohesiveness of mass, first bite, and density’

Asked about flavor - another challenge with coconut oil in plant-based meat applications - he said: EPG has a neutral fat flavor and it does have a tendency to carry the flavors that it's in."

Rowe added: We're hearing from people that EPG is actually helping to mask the pea protein or soy or whatever substrate they are using. The other issue is that with coconut oil, you've got a relatively low smoke point, so you can start picking up burnt, seared notes at a relatively low temperature, say 350 degrees ​[fahrenheit] whereas we have a much higher smoke point. 

Again, it’s something else we hadn’t thought about, but people were saying to us, 'We’re working with one of the big flavor houses and coming back and saying Oh my God, let me show you how this scored!'

“It reduced bitter, it reduced burned, it reduced seared​ [flavor notes], it improved moisture, cohesiveness of mass, first bite, and density, as one of the other problems that some have experienced is that their substrate is very dense.  EPG played a role in improving density, meaning making it less dense.”

epogee fats
EPGs are a family of fat- and oil-like substances that resemble triglycerides in structure and appearance, but have been modified to prevent or limit their digestion when consumed in food. Image credit: Epogee

Is EPG considered clean label?

Asked whether EPG is considered clean label, he said: “They don’t want to list esterified propoxylated glycerol, but ‘EPG (modified plant-based oil)’ is OK. Most formulators have said, you know, that works for me.

“It’s also a vegan product, GMO free, trans fat free, allergen free, vegan. kosher and halal. We exhibited at the Plant Based World Conference and Expo in New York, and we got a lot of interest and buzz, so what we're finding at this show, is that people are coming to us, so it's starting to build some momentum in this application.”

Not another Olestra…

Unlike Olestra (which had a lower melting point and messy side effects) or fat replacers made from sugars, gums, starches or fibers (which provide bulking, humectancy and mouthfeel but many firms don’t want to include on the ingredients list), EPG functions like fat in food products and in the human body because it’s made from fat, ​stressed Caruso.

In a nutshell,​” ​he said, EPG is unique in the food formulation space because it’s an “alternative fat, not a fat ‘substitute’… EPG looks feels, tastes, and functions like fat because it’s made from fat, it just doesn’t deliver the calories. “

Fat… the final frontier for meat alternatives?

Plant-based meat alternatives are getting 'meatier' by the day as brands reverse engineer animal products and put them back together with plants. But getting plant-based fat to behave like animal fat has been a major stumbling block for the industry.

As a result, the race is on to find fat with better functionality, flavor, and environmental credentials, with some foodtech startups such Yali Bio​​​, Zero Acre Farms​​​, c16​​ Biosciences​​,​​ and Nourish​​ ​​producing animal-like fats via engineered microbes; while others such as Mission Barns​​​ are creating ‘real’ animal fat (without animals) in bioreactors from animal cells (although this would clearly compromise a burger's 100% plant-based credentials).

Motif FoodWorks​​​ meanwhile, is developing oleogels that trap liquid oils within an ethyl cellulose scaffold to create fats that can be co-extruded with plant-based proteins, creating a “veining and marbling effect" ​​emulating conventional meat, while Sunnyvale-based startup Lypid​​​ is microencapsulating liquid plant oils in water to create spongy fats with very high melting points.

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