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How plant based protein innovations stack up to taste & texture of traditional meats
Monday, 04 September, 2023, 13 : 00 PM [IST]
Swathi Gopalakrishnan & Srimita S
In an incredibly changing culinary landscape, the demand for sustainable and nutritious ingredients has led to an increase in alternative plant-based proteins, and with environmental concerns and health considerations taking precedence, researchers and food scientists are tirelessly pushing the boundaries of culinary creativity. The traditional divide between animal-sourced and plant-based meat alternatives is undergoing a major transformation, as these innovations seek to not only replicate that but transcend traditional meat flavours and textures. When consumers increasingly recognise the impact of their dietary choices, this article delves into the latest advances in plant-based proteins and examines how to assemble the well-known traditional meat texture and taste.

Plant-based meat alternatives to traditional meat have grown spectacularly from humble beginnings. Today, they stand as a notable competitor to the conventional meat industry. Scientists and chefs explore the complex molecular interactions that make up flavours, using age-old culinary arts and sophisticated techniques to create an incredible experience.

Exploring the science behind taste
Umami, usually the fifth taste, holds the key to flavour satisfaction. Researchers are zeroing in on compounds like glutamic acid and ribonucleotides, replicating plant-based products that are high in umami. These hybrids are not mere imitations; they act as collaborative flavour architects to evoke the depth of flavour normally associated with meat.

Unwanted flavours—bitter and grassy—have historically plagued alternative plants. Modern cooking reveals ways to eliminate these unwanted issues. Enzymes such as soybean lipoxygenase, which catalyses polyunsaturated lipid oxidation, have been identified as the source of the beanie's bitter taste. Researchers are using this knowledge to develop ways to minimise these effects, ensuring that every bite contains interesting revelations.

The aroma of the food is an introduction to its culinary story, and plant-based proteins enter this realm wholeheartedly. Aromatic compounds such as pyrazines, common in natto and tempeh, are popular, providing a distinctive toasty and nutty aroma. Pyrazine not only act as an odour stimulant which provide distinctive aroma but also important contributor to the natto’s unique flavour.

The pursuit of excellent cooking encourages plant-based proteins to expand their function beyond the taste. The functional benefits are also acknowledged. In fermented foods like natto and tempeh, the important chemicals which are responsible for the unique flavour is the free amino acids and peptides. Peptides enriched with anti-diabetic and anti-hypertensive properties are found in natto and tempeh. This combination of taste and health aligns with what consumers want—the demand for satisfaction and nutrition.

Transforming plant-based proteins into meat alternatives with versatile tastes is a synergy between science and creativity. Chefs and food scientists redefine the boundaries of taste perception with the help of the excellence of science and the expertise of culinary.

Decoding about textures
What is the most important element that consumers expect in a food product that can be considered a meat alternative? Yes. It is the flavour, texture, and mouthfeel.

When it comes to plant-based protein texture, it differs depending on the raw material and process method employed. This factor is affected by raw materials, processing processes and ingredients added. To create textured vegetable protein, the raw material is subjected to a variety of physicochemical analyses to determine its qualities. It is then typically extruded using a high moisture or low moisture extrusion technique. Pressure, temperature, screw speed, and moisture are the most important factors in the process. The low moisture extruded textured proteins are dried and stored. They are rehydrated and utilised during the manufacturing process. Extrudates from high moisture extrusion are often kept at low temperatures or utilised immediately.

Process methods like extrusion are considered to be more effective in both quality and quantity. The addition of defatted materials, which result in low-fat products, is beneficial for the texture of protein. The use of fats or oils improves the formation of fibrous structures during processing. Binders are compounds derived from plants or animals that promote moisture and fat binding, enhancing texture and cohesion in the final product. Some examples of binders include wheat gluten, soy protein isolates, and xanthan gum. The optimal concentrations of binders used impact the product quality. Research on binding agents dates back to the 1980s, with milk, water, gluten, and albumin used in different proportions. Soy isolates, pea isolates are popular, and polysaccharides like guar and pectin extend and bind products. Fermentation based and cell-based ingredients and products are gradually picking up in the market.

In the culinary evolution towards more sustainable and health-conscious choices, advancements in plant-based protein innovations have reached unprecedented heights. From the sizzle of a burger patty to the succulence of a steak, the gap between tradition and innovation is rapidly narrowing. The journey to create plant-based alternatives that satisfy both the palate and conscience has yielded an array of options that are not mere substitutes but rather contenders in their own right. While the debate between plant-based and traditional meats is far from over, it is undeniable that the landscape of culinary science is forever altered. As consumers savour the newfound harmony between taste, texture, and sustainability, it becomes evident that this paradigm shift is not just a passing trend but a revolution on our plates. Thus, the new era of taste and texture unfolds with plant-based protein innovations.

(Swathi Gopalakrishnan- CEO; Srimita S- Food technologist, Protivore, part of NSRCEL Women Entrepreneurship Program)
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