Innovation in cleaner plant alternatives

KANSAS CITY – The plant-based meat substitutes category is bursting with sales. The demand for products perceived as clean label remains a constant and strong flow.

For the two trends to converge, food companies may seek to eliminate certain chemical-sounding ingredients like methylcellulose and narrow the ingredient list by finding ways to avoid using masks and flavor enhancers.

“Plant-based products always benefit from a halo, regardless of the content of the ingredient declaration,” said Melissa Machen, senior manager of technical services for Minneapolis-based Cargill. “Long ingredient lists and unknown ingredients haven’t stopped the meat alternative space from showing phenomenal growth in the category. That said, the industry is not left out. Many customers would like to reduce the number of ingredients in their formulas and replace less familiar ingredients with options that consumers will recognize.

Data shows clean label potential in plant-based meat substitutes. Allied Market Research, Portland, Ore., Predicts that the global meat substitutes industry will achieve a compound annual growth rate of 7.2%, rising to $ 8.82 billion in sales in 2027, from $ 4.51 billion. dollars in 2019. Research from FMCG Gurus, a market research company based in St. Albans, UK, showed that 83% of flexitarians said it was important that meat substitutes be 100% natural .

Sixty-nine percent of consumers said that simple, recognizable ingredients influence their purchasing decisions, and 66% said they look for labels with the shortest ingredient list, according to Outside Voice research. ADM.

“It shows how attentive consumers are to the ingredients used in herbal offerings as they seek assurance that what is listed on product labels is real and genuine,” said Ross Wyatt, Manager product and application development for ADM based in Chicago. “It also underlines the importance for product developers to use as few ingredients as possible that are also recognizable in plant-based meat alternatives to attract and attract flexitarians.”

Ingredients to omit

Ingredients that may not be considered user-friendly include methylcellulose, sodium acid pyrophosphate, potassium chloride, modified food starch, xanthan gum, and modified cellulose, said Brock Lundberg, PhD, president of applications and of R&D for Fiberstar, Inc., River Falls, Wisconsin. .

“However, the one ingredient that many meat replacement companies are trying to replace is methylcellulose,” he said.

No individual replacement ingredient exists for methylcellulose due to its unique functionality, but Fiberstar offers a Citri-Fi Citrus Fiber System, which uses a process free from chemical changes, said Dr Lundberg.

“The Citri-Fi portfolio includes the 100 series, which offers water retention and emulsification properties,” said Dr. Lundberg. “It creates juicy and succulent meat substitutes. In addition, there is the Citri-Fi TX range, which is a texturizing citrus fiber. The coarse granules provide a cold bond in addition to a meat-like texture and bite. These citrus fiber products can be used with other ingredients including native starches, functional proteins and enzymes to create own brand meat alternatives.

“A huge hurdle that plant-based meat producers face when facing the animal meat industry is moving from frozen, where shelf life is easier to achieve, to refrigerated, where to find shelf life.” decent is much more difficult. ”
– Natasha Dhayagude, Chinova Bioworks

Consumers are unfamiliar with methylcellulose and do not understand its function in alternative formulations to meat, Ms. Machen said.

“Methylcellulose has unique properties that allow for a firm, heated texture and a soft, uncooked texture, just like you would with a meat or poultry product,” she said. “Cargill and many other ingredient suppliers are working to find viable alternatives to this highly functional ingredient, but it is a difficult task. Replacing methylcellulose will almost certainly require a mixture of different ingredients to replicate its functional properties. “

Ready-to-cook products like a raw hamburger patty will present more challenges than heat-treated options where processors have more control over cooking temperatures for better gelation of ingredients, Ms. Machen said.

“Despite the obstacles, we are making progress,” she said. “We continue to experiment with combinations of modified starches, fibers, hydrocolloids, and highly gelling plant protein powders to create systems that form firm gels when hot, but soften when they are hotter. cold. “

One ingredient potentially perceived to be more natural is offered by Chinova Bioworks, Fredericton, NB. Chiber can be called “mushroom extract” or “button mushroom extract” on the ingredient list, said Natasha Dhayagude, CEO of Chinova Bioworks. It has been shown to replace artificial preservatives like sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, according to the company. Chiber offers broad-spectrum protection against bacteria, yeasts and molds, and it has no sensory impact on end products, according to the company.

“This is an attractive label positioning for brands because it is transparent and easy to understand for consumers compared to artificial preservatives which are not label friendly, difficult to pronounce and complicated,” Ms. Dhayagude.

Chinova Bioworks has tested Chiber in a variety of meat substitutes ranging from sausages and burger patties to chicken substitutes.

“A huge hurdle that plant-based meat producers face when facing the animal meat industry is to switch from frozen, where shelf life is easier to achieve, to refrigerated, where it is much. harder to find a decent shelf life, ”she said. “Chiber is an effective solution that allows you to extend the shelf life of chilled vegetable meats while improving quality and freshness. “

Other possible applications for Chiber include dairy products, plant-based dairy alternatives, sauces, spreads and dips, and beverages. Chinova Bioworks also plans to expand into baked foods.

Improve the taste of vegetable proteins

The quality and characteristics of the plant protein source determine the extent to which formulators will need to rely on flavor masks, texturizers or mouthfeel enhancers.

“Creating plant-based alternatives to meat is a bit like putting a puzzle together, and targeting appealing attributes to consumers like clean labels with short, recognizable ingredients is an important piece,” Mr. Wyatt said of ADM. “To make sure we mitigate formulation challenges and long ingredient lists, we start with high quality, neutral tasting plant proteins first. By taking advantage of these sources, we are able to avoid the false notes that can be created when working with vegetable proteins. “

A trained sensory panel evaluated ADM’s pea protein powder for aromatic notes and other unwanted flavors, including unwanted herbal and earthy, bitter and sulfuric notes.

“In addition, our beans and pulses are of high quality and we use a unique processing technique that maintains the integrity of the beans’ own flavor to avoid wrong ratings,” said Mr. Wyatt.

Cargill offers Puris pea protein with a clean flavor profile, Ms. Machen said.

“We have worked with customers who added so many flavor masks to overcome the flavor deficiencies of vegetable protein, they used twice as much seasoning than they would use in a similar meat product, as well as high levels of flavor enhancers, ”she said. . “Using higher quality plant protein allows developers to balance these flavor systems, resulting in a much better tasting end product. “

Scott Cowger, vice president and national sales manager for Cereal Ingredients, Inc., Leavenworth, Kan., Said he noticed the improved taste of vegetable protein sources. CII sources its plant protein isolates and concentrates to create its textured plant protein ingredient.

“We did some experimentation with flavor masking, but for the most part most of our suppliers did a fairly good job through the process of concentrating or isolating removing much of the extra aftertaste or of the remaining flavor profiles, ”he said. “It’s improving a lot, and I think it has a lot to do with time and experimentation. Ideally what we want to provide is some type of extruded textured product that is flavorless and allows our customers to flavor (their products) accordingly so they don’t have to spend a lot of time trying. to disguise the flavor.

Some extractants used to create pea isolates are high in sodium, hence high levels of sodium in the end product, Mr. Cowger said.

“We are working with a supplier on the different extraction processes to reduce the sodium content of the pea isolate,” he said. “Therefore, make it a cleaner label.”

Color selection can also help in formulating clean labels, said Marty Gil, key account manager for GNT USA, Tarrytown, NY.

“Selecting bright, vibrant natural colors is one way to potentially reduce the number of ingredients in a plant-based meat alternative, as a vibrant hue will be maintained and eliminate the need for additional ingredients to enhance color and attract. the consumer. ” he said.

Non-GMO ingredients that are familiar to consumers, such as vegetables, fruits, and other edible plants, can replace ingredients that might not be perceived as clean.

Dr Lundberg highlighted the ingredients that offer multiple features, including water retention, emulsification, texturing and cold bonding.

“There are functional plant-based fibers such as Citri-Fi citrus fiber that can provide most of these functionality,” he said. “Fiberstar, Inc. has optimized solution sets using citrus fibers to keep ingredient labeling clean and short while minimizing additional ingredient flavors.”

Vitessence Tex collapses from Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., adds a chewy texture while increasing the protein content of plant-based meat substitutes, said Karen E. Constanza, Marketing Manager, Meat and Meat Alternatives for Ingredion. The Company’s Novation Functional Native Starches provide texture and stability to meat substitutes.

“In addition, our meat substitutes experts have developed food system solutions that offer a range of functionality based on synergies of ingredients such as gelation, binding, water retention and freeze / thaw stability. ”Ms. Constanza said.

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