Unilever, IFF & Wageningen University tackle flavor challenges in plant-based meat

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags plant-based meat alternative proteins Flavor

A four-year research project between IFF and Unilever, along with Wageningen University & Research (WUR) scientists in the Netherlands, will focus on how flavors bind to protein molecules “with the goal of recommending novel flavoring strategies that elevate the sensory experience of plant-based meat alternatives,” according to IFF.

Worth upwards of $8bn in the U.S., the plant-based food market’s barrier to consumpti​on is taste, according to research from Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association. Further, Mintel data reports that more than half (53%) of consumers prefer for plant-based meat to taste analogous to animal meat, followed by cost.

Incorporating additional flavor combinations is a common solution to addressing bitter and beany off-notes in plant-based meat made with proteins like soy, pea, mung bean and mycoprotein

Between IFF’s comprehensive research in protein purification and natural food flavoring, WUF’s analytical methods around protein flavor interactions and Unilever’s consumer-centric guidance, the partnership intends to provide more understanding around protein interactions and improve flavor quality around plant-based meat alternatives.

“Our mission is to understand and improve flavor quality in plant-based meat alternatives by unraveling the intricacies of protein interactions, to investigate flavor loss and elevate the overall flavor profile. This joint commitment aligns with our shared goal of improving consumer eating experiences and fostering positive change within the plant-based food industry,” said Neil De Costa, lead scientist, global product research, IFF.

Developing tastier plant-based meat is an ongoing area of research across the industry. In May 2022, Kerry Group revealed its research​ that despite health and sustainability as top drivers for flexitarians, taste is the top concern. The company published an ebook series, providing actionable solutions and textural preferences in different regions.

Sensient Food Colors’ proprietary taste solutions​ features dehydrated spices and herbs to add depth to plant-based meat formulas. Ingredients include onion, garlic, chilis and herbs. Incorporating fats and oils can improve mouthfeel.

Givaudan’s Primelock+ addresses flavor challenges in plant-based savory products and fat and oil content reduction. According to the company​, the technology “protects, encapsulates and locks in the flavor and fat,” while delivering the experience of real meat.

While partnerships offer a strength-in-numbers approach allowing for each party to leverage its expertise to improve formulations. Most notably, food processing distributor, Nelson-Jameson’s partnership​ with fermentation expert, Vaess and Lallemand Specialty Cultures, taps into biotech solutions for plant-based food. Vaess’ release of VascoPrime, an alginate casing for plant-based sausages, addresses binding challenges; while its bacterial culture-based nitrite alternative for bacon replaces the conventional preservative.                                                                                                                                          

Citing health and sustainability as a driving goal behind IFF, WUR and Unilever’s research, Hans-Gerd Janssen, part-time professor at the chair group Organic Chemistry of Wageningen University and scientist at Unilever said the partnership will “drive the transition to more plant-based options.”

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