Over the past few years, Japanese materials supplier Shin-Etsu has been increasingly innovating in the area of food ingredients that enhance the texture and mouthfeel of plant-based foods. The company — which has facilities in both Japan and Germany — aims to make it possible to match animal products as closely as possible in terms of taste, nutrition, and texture.
In 2020, Shin-Etsu announced that it was developing its first product targeted specifically at the plant-based food market — a binder to improve the texture of meat alternatives. The company said it aimed to supply the ingredient to major producers such as Beyond Meat and Nestlé.
Since then, Shin-Etsu has been expanding its range to offer more products for the alt meat industry. We spoke to Matt O’Connell, a US-based technical support team member for the company, to find out more. Matt has over 10 years of experience in culinary R&D, working as a research chef for ingredient suppliers, flavor houses, and CPGs prior to joining Shin Etsu in 2021.
How important are plant-based products for Shin-Etsu?
Nowadays, plant-based products are a crucial aspect of our overall sales strategy, and they account for a significant portion of our total food ingredient sales worldwide. Shin Etsu has been supporting the plant-based industry with best-in-class products and technical expertise since the meat alternative boom began. We have expanded our capacity to keep up with demand as the industry grows, and look forward to supporting all the companies – new and old – that continue to innovate within this exciting culinary frontier.
What are the biggest challenges in developing vegan meat alternatives like burgers and sausages, and what solutions do you offer the industry?
The authenticity of plant-based meat alternatives is paramount. According to polling data, 82% of consumers who eat meat alternatives also consume conventional meat on a weekly basis. These customers demand a plant-based product that tastes and feels like the real deal.
If only it was that easy! Approximating the taste and texture of animal protein using vegetable alternatives remains one of the biggest and most daunting challenges for developers. Plant-based proteins derived from various vegetables and legumes have different nutritional, taste, and textural properties when compared to meat proteins, which means the development of meat analogs is no easy feat.
Animal meat consists primarily of functional elastic muscle proteins that give it a distinct mouthfeel. Plant-based proteins are mainly storage proteins and are less functional overall due to their entangled structure. As a result, plant-based products made with proteins from pea and soy alone cannot replicate the strong bite characteristic of animal protein without the help of certain functional ingredients. This is where our methylcellulose comes in.
Methylcellulose has a unique gelling functionality that simulates the texture and mouthfeel of animal protein. Using methylcellulose at only 1-2% in your plant-based burgers and sausages can make all the difference in delivering an amazing product that your customers will continue to crave.
What advantages do your customers have from choosing METOLOSE® and TYLOPUR® for their products?
There simply is no substitute for methylcellulose when formulating plant-based meat alternatives. Our competitors have claimed that this product or that product is next in line to dethrone methylcellulose, but none have been successful to date. Why? Methylcellulose is a hydrocolloid with unique thermogelation functionality that makes it the best choice for any product developer wishing to approximate the texture of animal protein. As a result, it is commonly found in products designed to be eaten hot, such as commercially produced plant-based burgers and meat-free nuggets. Whether you use TYLOPUR® produced in Germany or METOLOSE® from Japan, you can rest assured that you are receiving top-quality products ideally suited to make your meatless product irresistible to consumers.
Do you support your customers in developing formulations? If so, how?
Although developing plant-based alternatives can be a challenging task, it is by no means impossible. Fortunately, our team has many years of experience with such formulations and can provide all the necessary support and education to help our customers succeed. We understand that some customers may require minimal support, while others, particularly start-up companies, may need more comprehensive assistance. In these cases, we are intimately involved in every aspect of their product development, equipment selection, and ultimate manufacturing processes.
When working with each customer, we always suggest the most appropriate grades of ingredients for their specific application. Moreover, we are constantly learning from each customer’s experiences and enjoy the process of developing new recipes in our research laboratories located in Germany and the US.
How has the demand for plant-based ingredients evolved in recent years and how are you responding?
With the double-digit growth in demand for plant-based meats in recent years, there has been an equivalent increase in demand for plant-based ingredients suitable for these applications. To meet this demand, we have established new production lines in Wiesbaden, where we produce our most successful grades of ingredients for plant-based products, including Tylopur MCE-4000 and Tylopur MCE-100TS.
Furthermore, we constantly monitor the market for new trends and gaps, and adjust our product line and technology to align with the biggest evolving sub-categories within the plant-based space. We are committed to supporting the plant-based industry in producing healthy meat analogs with superb texture and bite, both now and in the future.