Ingredients

Bridging the Flavor Gap: 7 Solutions to Enhance the Taste of Plant-Based Meat for Maximum Consumer Satisfaction

Today, we are looking into the companies and latest research trying to bridge the flavor gap between plant-based and animal meat with different solutions, including fermented onions, yeasts, chlorella, fermented ingredients, and heme proteins.

Flavor is a complex perception that combines taste (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami) with other sensory inputs, particularly smell. Taste and smell interplay to create the overall flavor experience. However, other factors, such as texture and temperature, can influence flavor. Companies often say, “to enhance the taste, texture, and cooking experience of plant-based meat.”

As many studies highlight flavor and taste as the drivers behind plant-based meat purchasing decisions, let’s look at the innovations to make these alternatives more appealing to mainstream consumers in order to accelerate the transition to plant-based diets.

1. IFF – discovering flavor interactions

In collaboration with Wageningen University and Research (WUR) of the Netherlands and Unilever; IFF, an international flavor and fragrance producer, will together investigate the interaction between flavors and protein molecules to devise innovative strategies for enhancing the sensory properties of meat alternatives.

Typically, plant-based proteins can have undesirable beany or bitter off-notes, often hidden by alternative flavorings employed by meat alternative manufacturers. However, this approach may lead to unfavorable aroma traits.

© IFF

2. US researchers – the allium family

The researchers of the study, Making plant-based meat more ‘meaty’ — with fermented onions, published in the ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, were looking to create natural meat flavorings, either by extracting chemicals from plants or using enzymes and bacteria. They aimed to find replacements for the synthetic flavors used in food formulations.

The researchers found that the best meaty aromas were obtained by fermenting allium family members, including onions, chives, and leeks, with the fungus Polyporus Umbellatus. According to the authors, the resulting fragrance resembled that of liver sausage and replicated the flavor and aromas of traditional meat.

The results of this study indicate that utilizing these onion ferments as natural flavorings in plant-based meat could address a key concern among consumers: the absence of a meaty taste.

Image provided by Ohly

3. Ohly- yeasts

 

Ohly, a world-leading provider of functional yeast products and extracts, has developed a range of carbon-neutral yeast extracts to enhance the flavor of plant-based foods. The ingredients are said to deliver the umami flavor needed to achieve a “deeply satisfying sensation” in consumers used to the organoleptic experience of meat and dairy.

Yeast extracts are rich in glutamic acid, a naturally occurring compound responsible for the umami taste found in meat, cheese, and ripe tomatoes. When used in meat alternatives, yeasts are said to bring out flavors such as meaty and roasted notes, while balancing taste and improving the texture, juiciness, and overall mouthfeel.

A banner displaying a plate with scrambled eggs, raw burger patties, a cheese wedge, and raw dried pasta.
© Daesang

4. Daesang – chlorella

Korean food manufacturer Daesang has developed GoldRella and White Chlorella, two ingredients for plant-based foods made from chlorella, a microalgae rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Daesang claims that GoldRella can make plant-based foods more appealing to a broader range of consumers. The secret of the ingredient is its potential to deliver a mild umami flavor that enhances the taste of foods. Moreover, when used in egg, cheese, and meat alternatives, it improves their texture and appearance.

In addition, chlorella is highly sustainable, can be grown relatively quickly, and requires far less water and land than traditional animal proteins. Daesang told vegconomist that it believes GoldRella has the potential to revolutionize the plant-based food industry.

The Mediterranean Food Lab Raises $17M in Series A funding to commercialize plant-based flavors for alt meat
© The Mediterranean Food Lab

5. The Mediterranean Food Lab – flavor

Israeli company The Mediterranean Food Lab (MFL) creates natural and fermented flavors to make alt meat and plant-based foods “delicious.” The company leverages solid-state fermentation and AI data to transform pulses and farm waste into rich, flavorful ingredients.

When added to casseroles, soups, stews, or plant-based meat, MFL’s ingredients play “the flavor role” that meat performs in recipes. Recently, the firm raised $17 million to scale its solid-state fermentation platform and commercialize its products among food service operations and CPG brands.

Seaweed based flavors for plant-based meat
© HN Novatech

6. HN Novatech – seaweed heme

Last year, the South Korean food ingredient company HN Novatech secured $4 million to commercialize its flagship product, ACOM-S, a seaweed-extracted heme ingredient that gives plant-based meat an “accurate meaty” flavor. 

Using this seaweed protein, the company has created four flavors: beef, pork, chicken, and lamb. The company’s protein extraction process and final product are free from additives and preservatives to help manufacturers develop clean-label alternatives. 

HN Novatech claims to be the first company in the world to extract heme-like molecules from seaweed. 

Precision fermentation startup Paleo expands into the plant-based pet food market with an animal-free heme ingredient.
Image courtesy of Paleo

7. Paleo – animal-free heme

Brussels-based precision fermentation firm Paleo is poised to help manufacturers bring the “real taste” of meat to plant-based foods. To do so, the biotech produces animal-free heme proteins (myoglobins ) as functional ingredients. According to Paleo, besides replicating the color of meat, heme proteins enhance the smell, taste, and aromatic experience in foods while providing iron. 

The biotech’s portfolio includes bioidentical GMO-free heme proteins from six animals: chicken, beef, pork, lamb, tuna, and mammoth. Recently, the company expanded into the pet food industry to make plant-based pet food taste like animal meat. Paleo told Vegconomist it is considering developing rat, mouse, and rabbit proteins for pet food products.

‘’The vegan market […] still faces challenges that are similar to the ones we have seen in human food: taste and olfactory experience [are] critical to [increasing] acceptance of plant-based options. We believe that Paleo’s ingredients have the potential to address this taste gap and exponentially help drive palatability,’’ Hermes Sanctorum, CEO of Paleo, commented recently.

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