Creating high-quality plant-based milk alternatives that recreate the taste, nutrition and textural properties of dairy milk is a significant challenge for manufacturers.
However, innovative production techniques and solutions such as vitamin premixes are helping to address these challenges and cement plant-based milks as true alternatives to their traditional counterpart.
Prinova specialises in the production of premixes for a variety of applications, including plant-based milk. To discover how premixes can enable the creation of nutritious, great-tasting and high-quality milk alternatives, FoodBev spoke with Tony Gay, head of technical sales & NPD at Prinova and Ritzo Richie, global product manager for plant proteins at Prinova.
What are the main manufacturing challenges associated with the creation of plant-based milks? How can these challenges be addressed?
Tony Gay (TG): There are multiple challenges associated with the creation of plant-based milk. The first one would be around the assumption that you’re going to get the same benefits from plant-based milk as you would do from dairy milk, as that isn’t often the case.
This is particularly apparent when you think of aspects like calcium content, as calcium is not going to be present in a lot of vegetable protein sources or vegetable origin sources.
Often, you would need to fortify these products with some form of premix, that would actually put back in the calcium that you would assume you would get in milk, and also vitamin D alongside it, because it helps with the absorption of calcium too.
Ritzo Richie (RR): You can use gellan gum in a plant-based drink to suspend calcium in the beverage. As Tony was referring to, a premix allows you to add in additional vitamins and/or minerals to create a complete product, and gellan gum has that function.
What you very often see is that other hydrocolloids are used to give products the right consistency, the right mouthfeel. Another important point is that dairy is very neutral in taste, and some plant-based raw materials have stronger tastes. This can also be very challenging.
Are these challenges more severe in some plant-based milk alternatives than others? Or are the challenges consistent across all types of plant-based milk?
TG: There’s always a balance between health benefits and flavour and that can be quite tricky. It depends on the consumer and what they’re looking for. Some may be just looking for a milk alternative that they like in their coffee, or some might be looking for the health benefits the plant origin has given them.
In terms of major challenges, quite often it’s not to do with the nutritional profile but to do with taste.
From a premix point of view, I think the challenges are all very similar, because the premix is not really going to have any issues from a flavour perspective, and the suspension is down to what else you include in that formulation, so the gellan gum etc. So the premix wouldn’t be a challenge.
RR: What’s important is the scope of the product you are producing. If you want to have a plant-based drink but want the taste to be as neutral as possible, you’re probably going to choose soy as a raw material.
Soy is an allergen, so if you want an allergen-free product you’ll have to look at other solutions. And then what you’re going to see is that the colour, texture or taste might be different; so then that brings new challenges.
How do Prinova’s solutions enable the creation of stable plant-based milk that tastes good, has strong nutritional values and a good texture/mouthfeel?
TG: We see a trend towards using blends of different plant origin sources to achieve this. Blends provide a bit more of an overall nutritional benefit, providing benefits such as better protein scores, better digestibility, improved amino acid profile etc.
You may utilise one plant source that provides some essential fats, but you put a proportion of that in there; it’s not the whole source of the plant origin. A producer may combine this with a source like fava bean as well. This overall combination of several sources together with a premix gives you health benefits across the board.
RR: If you’re going to make a plant-based drink, you will have to suspend products, and there are not too many alternatives that, at the same time, keep the product sellable.
What we try to do with the protein sources we offer, is that they’re all produced in a very natural way without adding process aids. This way, separation happens in a natural way, which is a big advantage if you’re looking at that from a clean label perspective.
Is Prinova working with any new and innovative plant sources or developing any new solutions for the plant-based milk space?
TG: We’re working with an ingredient called aquamin, which is a marine algae origin of calcium. We’re utilising that in premixes and because it’s plant origin, it’s suitable for plant-based products. Typically calcium carbonate is mined from the ground, so it does have an ecological impact to it.
Customers who are looking to take that step further within the plant-based movement (in terms of sustainability) will find aquamin an interesting source to add to a premix.
The other thing is vitamin D. There are two forms of vitamin D – D2 and D3 – and D3 is typically from an animal source. Looking for a vegan origin D3 for better absorption, better bioavailability, and putting that into premix is also going to be very interesting to lots of people producing plant-based milks, plant proteins or plant-based products generally.
RR: What we are prioritising at this moment is good, sustainable and scalable solutions – looking into the alternatives to the common plant sources such as soy, pea and rice.
Fava beans are an interesting source. Mung bean is challenging because it’s still being considered as a novel food, which is one of the legislative challenges so many of these new products face as well.
What drives us is trying to find sources that offer suitable technical, taste or texture advantages, without becoming unaffordable at the retail stage.
To find out more about Prinova and its solutions for applications such as plant-based milk, click here.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2021
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