Growing interest in plant-based diets has led to a variety of dairy and meat alternatives entering the market over recent years. But with consumers associating vegan products with a healthier lifestyle, criticism of their often lower nutritional value compared to animal products remains an issue, particularly when it comes to protein content.
So far, product development for alternative products has mainly focused on consumer perception and eating enjoyment. What does it look like? How does it taste? Does it have an appealing texture? And most importantly, how close does it compare to the animal-based product? Less attention has been paid to recreating a similar nutritional value and this is largely due to the complexities involved.
Replicating protein content is challenging. Plant proteins often have an intense flavor of their own and a strong discoloration that affects the end product. Using them at high enough levels to meet nutritional targets creates very different organoleptic characteristics, so this affects sensory properties such as taste, mouthfeel, smell, and appearance, in a way that may not align with consumer expectations. Plant milks, for instance, that fail to deliver the anticipated creamy mouthfeel and white appearance of their dairy counterparts are highly unlikely to gain consumer approval.
So what’s the answer? How can the protein content of plant-based products be increased without compromising its characteristics like texture and appearance?
Finding effective solutions has been a key focus for KaTech Ingredient Solutions since the beginning of the so-called plant-based revolution. We source plant-based proteins from around the world and carry out rigorous test to characterize their properties and understand their functionality and performance in different applications. Let us explain what this looks like in practice.
Testing protein functionality
We have developed a series of targeted experiments, methods, and protocols to test the functionality of plant proteins. Every raw material is evaluated in terms of emulsification properties, gelling, and foaming capacity.
The effects of different processing and environmental conditions on these properties are also explored, with additional organoleptic evaluations carried out to assess factors such as taste profile and color. It’s then a question of identifying which protein functionalities are relevant for different applications.
Matching functionality with applications
Dairy drinks, for example, require proteins with a neutral taste that also creates the desired creamy mouthfeel in the product. For special milk alternatives, such as barista milk, the protein must also have the ability to foam.
In addition, although a neutral taste is crucial for most product development, there are other requirements for specific categories. For example, emulsification, gel formation, and texturizing are particularly important for plant-based hard cheese, whereas soft cheese requires plant proteins that suit their spreadable, creamy, and white format. Mayonnaise, on the other hand, needs high emulsifying capacity and a neutral color.
Meat alternatives need proteins that deliver a pleasant, meaty mouthfeel. In some cases, they also need to gel under cold conditions yet still maintain their gelling properties when subjected to heat. At KaTech, we also recognize the importance of cleaner formulations and are working with different technologies to functionalize our plant protein ingredients to support the development of clean and simple labels.
Testing proteins in application
By accurately documenting the results of the functional tests and ingredient characterization, our technologist can then find the right plant protein for each application quickly and efficiently.
The final stage of our protein evaluation sees a panel of experts discuss and assess the organoleptic characteristics of the proteins in a variety of applications. This holistic approach allows different specialists to come together, share their expertise, and find the best way to optimize protein content based on production capabilities and product requirements. This enables us to provide our customers with the ideal protein or protein combination for their application and create products that stand out against the competition.
Thanks to our team’s dedicated work, we have built an integrated process that combines the results of our experiments, with protein classification and performance across applications. This allows our protein expert, Jocelyn Hernández, to compare the behavior of different proteins in application with the lab results in order to keep our ingredient know-how one step ahead. With this knowledge, we are able to identify protein ingredients that are pure in taste and highly functional. And this means they can be included in our formulations at a higher dosage which, in turn, brings the nutrient content of alternative products closer to their animal counterparts.
So, rather than having to choose between nutrition, sustainability, and quality, consumers now have the option of plant-based products that have it all.
For more information on how to develop plant-based products, please contact us via: [email protected]