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Constant cravings: Making plant-based foods a daily choice
We asked the team at IFF about its new technology designed to help plant-based meat manufacturers achieve cost-effective, sustainable solutions for nutritious and great-tasting products.
What are the challenges with creating new and innovative plant-based meat products?
Over 40% of consumers worldwide are highly interested in meat alternatives that have the same taste and texture as meat.1 But we all have habits that are rooted in culture and ingrained over many years. These don’t change because governments or nutritionists want them to and they certainly won’t change if plant-based food remains an imitation of fast food. In order to facilitate a change in eating habits, we need to design plant-based products for every meal.
Tradition and familiarity are also influential considerations. Consumers have a preference for plant-based meat products that are familiar, so products that are more meat-like in terms of taste, texture, juiciness, smell and appearance will appeal more for a significant number of consumers. We also have to remember flexitarians are omnivores and therefore in order to design plant-based foods that consumers will not only like but crave, we need to fulfil expectations.
Getting people to try plant-based food is comparatively easy; getting them to eat plant-based food every day is much harder. Afterall, no one can eat burgers and sausages every single day! We want to accelerate growth in the meat alternative category beyond ground meat burgers and, specifically, deliver a similar meat-eating experience that consumers crave.
Why is creating ‘muscle texture’ for whole pieces or chunks hard to achieve?
The ingredient toolbox for structure selection in creating plant-based burgers and sausages is extensive and has existed for many years. These applications consist of smaller pieces of textured plant proteins (TPP), bound together with additional ingredients, and this corresponds to mimicking ground, granular or flaky particles which are used in the meat industry. In some cases, two or more TPPs can be combined in the same product creating even greater structure variation.
Creating larger, whole muscle pieces is challenging compared to ground or minced pieces because the expectation when eating, for example beef in goulash or chicken in a stir-fry, is to bite into a structure providing firmness, resistance and chew. Many flexitarian consumers are anticipating fibrosity and sensory experiences reflecting a meat equivalence.
Preferred characteristics for a Plant-Based Meat Analog (PBMA) compared to a premium whole muscle, animal-based protein include suitable firmness, balanced color and flavor profile, tenderness and juiciness and a product shape that resembles meat-based protein with complementary fibrosity.
The challenge is to deliver these characteristics in a single piece. Many whole-muscle PBMA market offerings have an appealing appearance but after hydration the product structure fails to meet the previously described characteristics. Without the appropriate structure, extrusion can create products that are spongy and lack the desired bite and texture for a ‘meat-like’ eating experience.
Extrusion technology is often used to replicate the texture of meat – can you talk us through the process?
Extrusion is used to create foods and ingredients which meet the desired appearance, nutritional value and sensory attributes, at a competitive cost. Water is a critical component in the extrusion process, acting as a plasticizer to create the proper ‘melt’ which, in turn, delivers the proper texture.
High moisture extrusion (HME) versus low moisture extrusion (LME) is defined by the amount of water used to process the ingredients. LME uses less than 50% water while HME uses more than 50% water during processing. LME products are normally dried and are shelf stable with less than 10% moisture – they can be transported and stored at ambient temperature. On the other hand, HME products typically require freezing and a cold chain for product, transportation and storage.
We have developed a new process, which is currently patent-pending. Our decades of knowledge with extensive, diverse product portfolio gives us the competitive edge in selecting the best combination of ingredients. Our ingredients, combined with SUPRO® TEX technology, creates a unique formulation and proprietary processing conditions intended for a PBMA that closely mimics the texture and taste of animal-based proteins to address gaps in the market.
Why choose LME technology to create SUPRO® TEX?
HME is an excellent technology however it is not suitable for every manufacturer. Manufacturers need to consider capital investments, to procure additional production floor space and processing equipment, possess relevant technical expertise and the ability to manage a cold supply chain. Cold supply management is more costly and complex (any energy or freight disruptions can cause potential losses). Such a temperature-controlled supply chain is also less sustainable because more energy is used to keep products frozen or chilled for an extended period before production.
LME products will be hydrated before further processing from meat alternatives manufactures, reducing the shipping weight and cost associated with refrigerated storage and transport. SUPRO® TEX was developed with LME to minimize a food manufacturer’s need for added capital equipment purchase or manufacturing partner scheduling. It simplifies a supply chain while providing flexibility in scheduling since product use only requires hydration/marination. Having a convenient and simple product solution enables greater reach of PBMAs to more manufacturers by reducing their financial risk and manufacturing cost.
It also means shipping costs are reduced because it’s a dry product, and a manufacturer can warehouse at ambient temperature. And because the protein pieces absorb water in ratios of 1:2 or 1:3, it is a very cost-effective solution. This is important because, while great taste and texture are mandatory, consumers will only try new things if the price is competitive.
How important are cleaner, greener manufacturing processes to the plant-based market?
Research shows that 67% of global consumers strive for a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions and around 30% of consumers say they buy sustainably-produced items.2 Manufacturers are increasingly putting sustainability front and center in their business strategies with more environmentally-friendly innovations and sustainability initiatives driven by consumer perception and the need to maintain positive brand reputation. In fact, developing sustainable products is included in the sustainable strategy of almost 80% of food & beverage manufacturers.3
Beyond texture, what is the impact on flavor when using SUPRO® TEX?
The physical structure enables thorough color and flavor absorption of an aqueous solution, compared to other processes requiring brine injection or excess ingredient use to impart flavor and color. The piece structure enables either static or vacuum hydration depending on the available equipment or desired product throughput.
The customer will perform the hydration themselves. As water is absorbed by the protein, the flavors and colors added during the process are dispersed inside the protein piece. This delivers a thorough distribution of flavors and colors inside the protein, resulting in a better eating experience.
What challenges have you managed to overcome with LME technology?
LME products are suitable for many applications, from processed meat to meat alternatives, such as ground meat, burgers and sausages. However, we know that LME has some limitations when it comes to mimicking whole muscle. SUPRO® TEX has addressed a range of challenges here, such as eliminating the need for gluten, as well as breakage and yield loss during mechanical tumbling and lengthy product labels of some traditional LME products which fall short of ‘lean label’ expectations.
Can you talk us through the technicalities behind the tumbling and hydration process?
SUPRO® TEX is delivered to our customers in a dry format and requires hydration to become usable for further processing into selected applications. The selected application defines the appropriate hydration level. This means if the target application is prepared in a dry heated environment (e.g. a stir-fry dish where no additional moisture is added), the hydration level can be fixed in the high range. If selecting a higher moisture application (e.g. a ready meal with sauce), the hydration level should be set in the lower range.
Flavor and color solutions are dissolved in the preferred ratio of water to create a marinade which is combined with the SUPRO® TEX to begin the hydration process. Animal-based protein contains moisture (raw uncooked is 56-71% water), and SUPRO® TEX contains moisture from 71-75% water based on water addition ratio which ranges from 2.5:1 to 3:1. Since low hydration levels (<2.5:1) can result in inadequate hydration, the hydration process is critical to the finished product. Consistent hydration may require random agitation or the use of a tumbler system.
Tumbling enables uniform exposure and permeation of the marinade to the chunk surface area. Our experience with SUPRO® TEX suggests vacuum application and increasing the tumbler rotational speed can reduce the hydration time by approximately 10 minutes compared to non-vacuum processing with minimal fines generation and yield loss.
What applications does SUPRO® TEX mimic meat best?
When SUPRO® TEX is hydrated, the protein content is similar to animal-based protein. The combination of our solutions with SUPRO® TEX technology offers versatility, which can be applied to various whole muscle meat categories and applications. We have developed a wide variety of concepts, including a chicken ready meal, lamb kabobs, beef bourguignon, chicken stir-fry, beef fajitas, chopped pork BBQ, pizza toppers, breakfast bowls, and retort (canned) applications.
By selecting the right flavor systems and colors, an array of meat can be recreated (pork, beef, dark chicken, lamb). This PBMA is designed for convenience and can be used at various manufacturing scales. The product potentially reduces the barrier to entry in the PBMA space by reducing the need for capital. It may be a “drop-in” solution for those manufacturers who have idle hydration capacity or sufficient capital to invest in tumbling. A manufacturing product advantage is the ability to create unique culinary applications reflecting flavors and spices specific to a region in creating both distinctive and familiar eating experiences. SUPRO® TEX enables global product supply while supporting local applications.
To learn more about SUPRO® TEX visit iff.com/supro-tex-2022.
1. Health Focus, Protein Report, 2021.
2. Mintel, 2021 and Euromonitor, 2021.
3. Euromonitor International Voice of the Industry: Sustainability, fielded May 2021, Food and Beverage industry professionals.
Ulrik Kofod Madsen, Culinary Designer, IFF Nourish (based in Brabrand, Denmark).
Michael Meyer, Portfolio & Project Manager, IFF Nourish (based in Saint Louis, MO, USA).
Cintia Nishiyama, Global Product Marketing, IFF Nourish (based in Saint Louis, MO, USA).