ICL, Plantible launch clean label methylcellulose alternative with high protein, strong sustainability profile

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Plantible
Source: Plantible

Related tags Methyl cellulose

Functional ingredient supplier ICL Food Specialties and Plantible Foods join the race to replace the widely used but increasingly unpopular binding and gelling ingredient methylcellulose in plant-based protein with today’s launch of ROVITARIS Binding Solution made with Rubi Protein.

Positioned a “clean label” alternative to chemically processed binders in plant-based meat and seafood, the companies tout ROVITARIS as a “one-of-a-kind functional protein system” that delivers a comparable binding to methylcellulose but across a wider range of temperatures and a more desirable texture and better nutritional profile. The companies also argue ROVITARIS is easier to digest, more sustainable and reduces cooking loss compared to methycellulose.

“Our patent pending ROVITARIS Binding Solution powered by Rubi Protein stands out as a revolutionary solution for plant-based meat and seafood formulations. With low allergenicity and a premium nutritional profile, it’s the ideal solution to address the clean label gap for replacing methylcellulose,” the companies argue in a white paper.

Consumers push back against methylcellulose

For many plant-based proteins, including those made by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, methylcellulose is a key ingredient to mimicking the bite, chew and overall texture of their animal-based counterparts.

The white odorless powder made by heating cellulose with a caustic solution and treatment with methyl chloride offers attractive gelling and emulsifying capabilities that are soluble in cold water and form a gel in higher temperatures – making it a go-to for holding together plant-based bean products and boosting their juiciness.

Despite these positive attributes, ICL and Plantible Foods note, “health-conscious consumers seeking label-friendly ingredients are now avoiding products made with methylcellulose.”

Consumers are turned off by the ingredient because it is not something they would find in their kitchens​, it is frequently cited​ as “highly-processed” and has been tagged with an E number in Europe. They also are turned off by the ingredient’s medical usage as a laxative, which “has created a negative perception for its use in food applications,” ICL and Plantible explain in the white paper.

In response, plant-based protein manufacturers are on the hunt for methylcellulose replacements that won’t compromise taste or texture or require significant additional reformulation.

In response, many firms are offering more label-friendly alternatives, including Noblegen, Fiberstar, Shiru, Meala, and others.

However, ICL and Plantible argue, “while some replacements have become available, these solutions also bring complex formulation challenges,” with many requiring additional additives or hydrocolloids that can result in longer ingredient lists that also are off-putting to consumers seeing clean labels.

“Furthermore, marketed alternatives to methylcellulose tend to come with functional limitations that compromise product texture, often leading to a gummier or mushier consistency,” they add.

ICL: ROVITARIS delivers function without compromising texture

Unlike competing alternatives, ICL and Plantible argue ROVITARIS delivers the functional benefits companies want without compromising texture or contributing to longer ingredient lists.

For example, it explains ROVITARIS, which is made with Rubi Protein from lemna leaf, is highly soluble across a wide pH range and is more than 95% soluble in water. It also forms an irreversible gel at temperatures as low as 60 degrees Celsius and concentration as low as 2%.

“Due to the quick hydration and robust binding effect of [Rubi Protein], food scientists and product developers have the versatility of simplifying their production steps” because they can simply mix all components in cold water, followed by shaping and cooking, say ICL and Plantible.

Because ROVITARIS can uphold its gelling and binding properties across a range of temperatures, cooking loss is also reduced compared to methylcellulose, they add.

Higher protein boosts nutritional value

ROVITARIS Binding solution also offers a higher protein content than methylcellulose and competing alternatives.

ICL and Plantible note that the key ingredient, Rubi Protein, in the binding system has an amino acid profile and Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) of 109%  -- which exceeds that off egg, casein, soy and peas.

Finally, the innovators note that ROVITARIS tells a strong sustainability story, which is also increasingly important to consumers.

They explain that lemna leaf protein, the foundation for the system’s Rubi Protein, can grow on non-arable land and uses five to 10 times less water than other established protein sources and offers 30-45% protein of its dry weight.

“This elevated protein content renders lemna a compelling sustainable nutritional resource and the protein isolated form lemna leaf is among the most functional within commercially available proteins,” they argue.

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