Plant-based experts share discoveries on whole muscle alt-meats, vegan chocolates and AI reformulation – Food Ingredients First

14 Jun 2022 — As the plant-based protein category evolves, industry takes a leap forward in refining product development toward more authentic whole muscle-like meat analogs and vegan chocolates. With the meatless revolution maturing, local dietary habits are a factor that must be closely monitored in order to tailor product development to regional consumer needs. 

FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to key alternative protein suppliers to discuss the latest findings and product development in the space of plant-based meat analogs, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Whole muscle analogs are the next frontier
ADM research finds whole muscle alternatives to traditional meats are still largely underrepresented in family meal occasions. Crafting the perfect sinewy fibers with plant proteins has long been a “holy grail” ambition of producers, including Alfred’s FoodTech – a developer of technology to create tissue-like structures – and Redefine Meat, which uses 3D printing to achieve this.

Globally, one-third (33%) of family meal occasions include alternative meat products, and 67% include real meat products. Likewise, plant-based cuts – such as analogs to steaks, chops and tenderloins – are currently only consumed in 13% of total meat occasions, compared with 22% for comparable regular meat products.

“We’re on the leading edge of the alternative protein space with our upcoming launch of whole muscle-like plant-based products optimized for high moisture extrusion (HME),” details Jacquelyn Schuh, global marketing director, Protein Nutrition Solutions, ADM.

“These new functional soy protein concentrate solutions will help fill an immense white space in the plant-based arena for whole muscle-like cuts – such as chops, steaks, shellfish and more – that mimic the gold-standard sensory experience of traditional meat offerings that consumers demand.”

“Our extrusion expertise includes solutions for both HME and low moisture extrusion (LME), which helps meet our customers’ needs and supports their latest innovations,” she notes.

In the arena of protein-boosted applications spanning baked goods, snacks, beverages and specialized nutrition products, ADM is introducing its MaxFlex systems.

The blends – pea with rice or pea with wheat proteins –  deliver higher PDCAAS scores (0.89-0.95) than each of these protein sources can offer individually, while providing on-trend blends of protein-diverse, plant-based ingredients. 

Fava and pea power
Fava bean and pea protein continue to enjoy time in the spotlight. Tapping into this growth, supplier Roquette recently announced the launch of its Nutralys range of organic textured proteins from fava bean and pea for European markets.

To develop this new textured range, Roquette has worked with chef Morten Fenger, who comments: “The new organic Roquette plant-protein range allows me to replace meat 1:1 with plant-based meat in practically all my recipes with a culinary process as simple as home-cooking.”

“The fact that they are organic, low-allergen and plant-based speaks for itself. This is functional clean future food, with great gastronomic properties.”

The 11 grades of textured proteins offer a wide panel of shapes and textures with a neutral taste and clean label, allowing a variety of meals in meat & fish alternatives, from salad topping to plant-based bacon. 

This new range is “adapted to every local cuisine” ranging from plant-based bolognese to curry dishes and kebabs.

Pulses such as fava bean are rising star ingredients in product launches recorded a CAGR of 20% in the recent past (2016-2021), highlights supplier Beneo, which recently closed a €50 million (US$52.2 million) investment in a new pulse processing site in Offstein, Germany.

Regionalized taste preferences
Local dietary habits can offer great inspiration for developing plant-based meat products. Vegan doner kebabs, Mediterranean flavors and Asian-style grilling concepts are some of the latest plant-based specialties to hit the market in the previous year.

“For example, in Germany, schnitzels (a traditional meat product consumed in the country) are much more popular than in the UK. Bacon, on the other hand, generates less interest in Germany, but benefits from high demand in the UK and US,” Pierre Donck, commercial director Functional Proteins at Beneo, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

Beneo has created two prototype variants of its textured wheat protein BeneoPro W-Tex – with 7 mm and 5 mm as average particle sizes.

“They are ideal for the preparation of ground meat products such as plant-based burgers and meat-free meatballs, and can also resist tougher processing conditions and freezing, making them ideal for minced meat replacement in frozen vegan ready meals,” details Donck.

“For plant-based sausages, the BeneoPro W-Tex’s existing formulation has been recreated using a textured protein of smaller particle size of average 5 mm, instead of the standard 7 mm, for producers looking for finer textures in plant-based sausages, whether emulsified or not.”

For producers looking to replace the texture of chicken – in imitation chicken nuggets or strips – a variant of BeneoPro W-Tex has been created that has a slightly lower protein content of a minimum 60%, on dry matter. “It has a higher water holding capacity and as a consequence creates softer, juicier, more chicken-like textures,” notes Donck.

Replacing dairy with rice in sweets
Furthermore, when it comes to sweets, Beneo notes that a third of flexitarians are buying alternatives, with an extra 42% also interested in purchasing them.

“In fact, Beneo’s recent plant-based global consumer research highlights that a third of consumers worldwide would like to see more dairy-free chocolate in supermarkets,” continues Donck.

“But three-quarters of these shoppers say that it is very important that dairy-free chocolate has a similar smooth mouthfeel as products containing dairy,” he stresses.

With this in mind, Beneo has been developing recipes for plant-based cocoa bars that show off the potential of rice ingredients as a replacement for dairy. “As well as creating stable and creamy textures, this clean label ingredient also delivers a soft, smooth mouthfeel,” Donck highlights.

Vegan NPD within chocolate and confectionery has been gathering pace in recent years, as formulators develop more sophisticated methods of imitating the creamy textural and flavor properties associated with the traditional options.

Tapping into the conscience-free indulgence trend, Lindt launched a vegan chocolate range made from oat milk last August.

Barry Callebaut recently expanded its North American plant-based portfolio with a dairy-free organic chocolate. One of the cocoa giant’s earliest iterations of milk-free chocolate was its Pathway range, which is ready to use for myriad applications, including confectionery, baked goods, cereals and snack products.

Machine learning for cleaner “all-plant” reformulation
Plant-only food-tech start-up The Live Green Group, Inc. has signed a commercial agreement with multinational food company Sigma via their internal start-up, FoodForms, which offers alternative food recipe solutions to third parties. 

Charaka – Live Green’s AI machine learning recommendation engine – will be utilized by The Live Green to offer alternative solutions to third parties looking to replace common food additives, such as methylcellulose.

With a database comprising 15,000 plants and over 500,000 data points, the Charaka search engine recommends 100% plant-only ingredients to replace additives in food.

“Charaka brings in the paradigm shift from plant-based to plant-only, to accelerate the industry’s transition to healthy and sustainable food systems,” says Priyanka Srinivas, founder of The Live Green.

“The most complex and cool aspect of our AI recommendation engine is its databases. Charaka’s databases – built using ancestral wisdom of plant nutrition – reduce trial and error and aid R&D at a fraction of the cost and time.”

The company has uncovered 450,000 plants and 10 million plant compounds that can help serve any functionality that we need, including preservation, coloring and flavoring. “The databases capture more than 50 properties of each plant which Charaka’s algorithms analyze to identify hidden and non-linear relationships at scale,” Srinivas notes.

“It’s incredibly efficient and economical to use the recommendation engine working together with FoodForms to offer alternative solutions to third parties looking to make their foods tastier, healthier and more sustainable without compromising on organoleptic properties, nutrition and production at scale,” she concludes.

By Benjamin Ferrer

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