The Challenge of Maximising Protein Content:
As the plant-based food market continues to see tremendous growth worldwide, we examine one of the key challenges faced by developers: successfully formulating protein-rich alternatives.
Across the globe, the popularity of plant-based foods shows no signs of abating. So much so that the international market value is currently predicted to hit $74.2 billion by 2027.
This is not without its challenges, however, as growing demand has presented a variety of complex issues for the pioneering members of the industry fronting the boom.
Alongside the mainstream emergence of flexitarian consumers in what’s being referred to as the ‘dietary shift of the century’, formulators are finding themselves hard-pressed to address the potential for nutritional imbalance. Specifically in terms of maximising protein content, which can be difficult to achieve in addition to delivering a familiar experience to meat and dairy equivalents.
In seeking to replicate the taste, texture, colour and mouthfeel of animal products – factors that cannot be compromised among flexitarian consumers dividing their intake between plant-based and ‘the real thing’ – formulators often face hurdles associated with the composition of plant protein ingredients.
‘Using plant proteins to increase protein levels can mean a dry texture, inaccurate colour, and protein-heavy taste,’ explains Andina Ingham’s Technical Specialist, Ian Tregaskis.
Despite significant advancements in this field during the last few years, including improved protein extraction methods and the discovery of novel sources, masking the undesirable traits that Ian outlines while optimising the nutritional value of such ingredients is indeed a challenge.
The off-flavour notes and gritty texture that sometimes linger can deter consumers from the finished product, regardless of protein content.
Given these are factors which play a central role in consumer interest and determine repeat purchases, formulators are prioritising plant proteins that meet this quota.
“In selecting the proteins, you have to be very careful that the protein’s intrinsic flavours fit the product,” says Dr Dorotea Pein, Director of Product Management at Planteneers – Andina Ingham’s partner in plant-based development.
So, what’s the solution?
Simply put, trial and error over many years of intensive research and development.
With the ultimate goal to create a product that delivers an equal or better nutritional profile to their meat or dairy equivalents, Dorotea explains that the inexperienced producer must start at the very beginning by first testing raw materials.
“A lot of companies at the moment would like to jump hoops,” she says. “But they have to learn the same things it’s taken us six years to figure out.”
Andina Ingham’s Technical Specialist Ian, adds “The next generation of plant-based meat and cheese products that Planteneers has developed contain a higher protein content to get closer to “real” products without compromising the overall eating experience. This is also in parallel with improving the nutritional balance with lower salt and fat levels where possible.”
With the majority of commercially available plant-protein ingredients coming from just 2% of the 150 plant species on which today’s global food supply depends, there is huge scope for innovation.
The continued application of research, technology and expertise means that we are coming ever closer to breaking plant-based barriers and successfully developing the kind of protein-rich, environmentally friendly, healthy plant-based products that consumers want to eat.