Caroline Schroeder, marketing communications manager for the Food Division at Lycored, discusses the rise of plant-based colours in the food and beverage industry, and how these colours are driving alternative meat consumption trends and mass consumer appeal.
Global consumption of all plant-based foods is growing, including an emerging class of products designed to look and taste like popularly consumed meats.
Although proteins that are derived from animals remain a leading food choice, many consumers are actively purchasing meat-free alternatives to limit their intake from these sources.
That increase in consumption – among millennials and others – wouldn’t be happening if today’s plant-based meat offerings weren’t far better tasting and appealing than their predecessors.
A willingness to try
More consumers are looking for nutrition and health benefits from the foods they eat and are increasingly willing to try new foods to get what they want. In 2021, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) conducted its annual online survey of 1,014 Americans aged 18 to 80.
Results showed that one in five is actively seeking health benefits from foods to help with things like weight loss or weight management, energy levels and digestive health. They are also ready to explore new foods in pursuit of those goals.
The survey found that 24% were more likely to now eat “much more” or “somewhat more” proteins from plant sources, while another 19% responded they were likely to increase their consumption of more plant-based meat alternatives.
Ain’t nothing like the real thing
To bring more people to the table, food scientists have been busy perfecting recipes that mirror the qualities of meats in common formats.
Flavour and texture are extremely important to get right. Consumers, noted research firm FMCG Gurus, do not want to feel as if they are sacrificing taste in order to lead a healthier lifestyle.
This desire for meat substitutes to replicate real meat products is also highlighted by consumers’ colour preferences for the products.
FMCG Gurus research shows that 73% of global consumers find brown colouring the most appealing for meat substitutes. This shows that it is not only vegans purchasing these products but meat-eaters looking for new, healthier alternatives.
Colour plays a pivotal role in food choice, influencing taste thresholds, sweetness perception, food preference and acceptability. But colour often takes a back seat to taste and texture and product developers need to realise that the colour and appearance of a plant-based product must make that vital first impression.
Why? Because we eat with our eyes. Before we taste, smell or touch food, we see it. And if what we see doesn’t resemble what we expect to taste, cognitive and sensory dissonance ensues.
Plant-based colours demand plant-based ingredients
Plant proteins, fibres and other building blocks for plant-based meats come from a variety of sources. The industry is currently producing foods out of a variety of all-natural, clean-label plant sources, including:
Lack of natural colour ingredients narrowing industry options
Attaining colour isn’t easy. For one thing, the iron-transporting protein haemoglobin that gives “real” meat its red colour isn’t present in plants. From a technical manufacturing standpoint, food engineers and formulators have only a few primary choices to colour plant-based alternatives naturally:
Viable vegan colour ingredients are hard to find
Colouring plant-based foods is challenging because viable ingredients that are able to clear challenging processing hurdles are limited.
Industrial-scale processing of these foods includes partly novel processes that require technical sophistication and experience establishing and stabilising colour based on source and product conditions, eg. pH range, high pressure, shearing and interactions with the product matrix.
These challenging conditions create many limitations for most of the above-mentioned colours.
Off-the-hook colours, straight off the vine
Fortunately for developers, a range of lycopene-based colours can be derived from sustainably sourced tomatoes.
To help the industry and food engineers understand how well lycopene colours perform in commercial applications, Lycored’s research team put lycopene colour ingredients to a series of real-world tests to find out. The results:
A better ingredient choice for colouring plant-based meats
Plant-based meat alternatives are vying for the top of the vegetarian product food chain, but they won’t get there unless ingredients are clean, able to withstand intensive processing and assure colours will stay true from factory to consumer. Lycored’s study data confirms lycopene-based colour ingredients have the process and colour stability the industry needs to ensure consumer appeal to their products.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2022
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