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Methylcellulose in plant-based meat alternatives? To use or not to use

As experts in plant-based development, we often get asked “Should we use methylcellulose?” It forms part of a broader conversation with our customers about how we ensure the optimal texture, succulence and performance of their plant-based products.

Methylcellulose is derived from the treatment of naturally occurring cellulose to create a tasteless, colourless powder. It is regularly used as a highly effective binding agent and its success in plant-based alternatives comes largely from its ability to help retain succulence. This plays a vital role in replicating the meat-like texture that has become an uncompromisable factor for flexitarians dividing their intake between plant-based and ‘the real thing.’

Andina Ingham’s partner in plant-based development, Planteneers, uses methylcellulose to great effect in many of its formulated recipes. As our Technical Specialist, Ian Tregaskis explains “Methylcellulose is used in combination with other plant proteins and plant-based ingredients like fibres. This gives viscosity for forming into shapes like nuggets and burgers and then on cooking it gels to give very firm textures for meat alternatives like plant-based chicken, burgers and bacon.”

Florian Bark, Product Manager Meat & Fish Alternatives at Planteneers adds that the benefits of using methylcellulose include:

  • Helps reduce cooking loss, especially with pre-fried and breaded products, giving a more succulent eat and a crispy, intact bread coating.
  • Fast production cycle times and good processability are important in the production of convenience foods. Methylcellulose ensures good binding and viscosity in the process and supports shaping and forming.
  • Maintains succulence so that the final product provides a better eating experience due to juicier and more natural fibre structure.

Despite what some may consider its “consumer unfriendly” name, it is notable that many leading plant-based players in today’s market are comfortable with incorporating methylcellulose into their products. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, two pioneering companies behind many best-selling meat alternatives are high profile examples of the use of methylcellulose.

In truth, methylcellulose has unique properties that cannot easily be replicated and the food industry as a whole has yet to find a suitable substitute. That’s not to say that our partner Planteneers isn’t looking into other options – on the contrary. At its innovation hub, the Plant Based Centre in Ahrensburg near Hamburg, Planteneers is continuously researching new, better system solutions for plant-based development with a focus on shorter ingredients lists and improved nutritionals. WATCH THIS SPACE!!.

So far, consumers seem to be approaching plant-based meat alternatives in the same way they would any other type of new food – by reading labels, noting potential allergens, balancing out portion size, and evaluating macro nutrients. Ultimately, it is their eating experience that will determine whether or not they buy a second time.

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