The plant-based space is one of the most dynamic and fast-paced sectors of the food and beverage industry. Interest in this sector has grown year on year, with Meticulous Research predicting the market to reach $74.2 billion by 2027.
Despite the smörgåsbord of plant-based products on the market, there are still some issues with texture, taste and likeness within the dairy alternatives sector. Companies have turned to technology to answer these problems, employing new techniques and ingredients to create products that better mimic their traditional dairy counterparts.
FoodBev takes a look at some of the key pain points for manufacturers within this space, the steps that companies are taking to solve these issues and the innovations afoot to make these challenges a thing of the past.
Cheese poses a problem for plant-based manufacturers. Each variety of cheese brings its own range of flavours and textures, which makes crafting plant-based alternatives a difficult affair.
These unique qualities are created during the fermentation process, caused by the reaction between casein – which makes up 80% of the protein in cow’s milk – and culturing agents. Plant-based sources react differently to these agents and as such, do not replicate the same creaminess or meltiness found in traditional cheese products.
When researching the differences between conventional and vegan cheese, Mecmesin – a provider of textural analysis solutions – found that vegan alternatives are often less firm and sticky due to the nature of the fats used in their production.
To combat these issues, companies are looking to fabricate plant-based versions of animal fats and proteins. Motif Foodworks has initiated a joint-research project with the University of Guelph to create plant-based fats that imitate the way animal fats behave when cooked. Fats are key to creating a creamy and melty texture in cheese, so perfecting this aspect will be a big step in concocting plant-based alternatives.
US-based dairy start-up, Perfect Day, uses microflora to produce proteins they claim make their products genetically indistinguishable from the real thing. To create their products, the team introduces the genetic code present in cow’s DNA to a fungus, which gives it the ability to produce the same proteins present in milk. The fungi are then fermented under strict conditions and left to formulate proteins that are free from the antibiotics and hormones often found in cow’s milk.
Other producers are turning to readily available ingredients rather than fabricating new ones. For instance, Bute Island’s Sheese range relies on coconut as a base for its range of vegan cheeses. Coconut oil provides a stable and neutral base high in lauric acid – a component also found in cow’s milk – to which other flavourings can be added.
According to the Good Food Institute, plant-based milk now accounts for 14% of all dollar sales of retail milk in the US, with more than 40% of households regularly purchasing non-dairy versions.
Despite the growing popularity of this sector, it is still met with challenges regarding taste and texture. Consumers often find that plant-based milk has an “off flavour” and can be more watery than dairy milk. A recent study from food science journal, Foods, explored the different processing methods behind plant-based milk production and found that certain methods can cause adverse qualities. Researchers found that ultra-heat treatment (UHT) processes helped to extend the shelf life of products, but created the beany flavour that some customers found unpleasant.
The study suggested that additional processing measures – such as a two-phase UHT or vacuum application – could help eliminate the compounds responsible for this unfortunate taste.
In addition, Elmhurst 1925 devised a process that allows the company to make a creamy dairy alternative using as few as two ingredients. By implementing the “HydroRelease” method, nutritional components of nuts or grains are first separated using water and then reassembled into a thick emulsion without the need for added gums or emulsifiers.
A report by Hexa Research predicts that the global vegan yogurt market will reach $2.53 billion by 2025, emphasising the growing consumer confidence in this sector. To reach this potential, plant-based yogurt producers are employing a number of different techniques to create the best products possible.
The sour, tangy taste we expect from yogurts comes from the lactic acid produced by probiotic bacteria, which break down the lactose in cow’s milk.
To compensate for the lack of lactose, plant-based yogurts tend to add more sugar, among other ingredients, to achieve a similar effect. This has had an adverse effect on the reputation of plant-based yogurts, with many consumers believing them to be packed with hidden sugars.
Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) may have the answer to this problem. DTU has worked to create an alternative starter culture optimised for use in the production of plant-based yogurts. The team has extracted lactic acid bacteria found in plants and used it to successfully acidify a sample of soy milk, which produces a result similar to dairy yogurt.
Scientists believe that this method could scale effectively, and in time become a commercial success. With this, manufacturers can not only better replicate conventional yogurts, but also do away with added sugars, oils and stabilisers.
Some companies are attempting to fight the high-sugar reputation that plant-based yogurts have amassed by creating product lines that focus on functional, superfood ingredients.
Plant-based company Lavva credits its success to the use of the pili nut, which has a high-fat content that helps to create the smooth texture found in conventional yogurts. Prebiotic-rich plantains and a mix of vegan probiotic cultures are also included, resulting in a low-carb, low-sugar yogurt with more than 50 billion probiotics per serving.
Have you got a great tasting dairy alternative? The World Plant-Based Taste Awards 2021 is a great way to give your product the recognition it deserves! Think you’ve got what it takes?
See all 12 categories and find out how to enter here.
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