More Than Meats The Eye

Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

“The technology of structuring plant proteins is ever advancing, with the basic use of plant protein powders in combination with texturizers, to high and low moisture extrusion, onwards to freeze structuring and shear cell technology.”—Koh Wanlin, IMCD Regional Technical Manager APAC

High daily consumption of meat is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before the advancement of industrial agriculture, meat was costly and only reserved for the wealthy or considered occasional foods. As the world population grows with increased affluence, the growing meat supply demands have raised concerns on global warming and food sustainability issues among the population. This has caused many to convert to a flexitarian diet which encourages mainly plant-based foods while allowing some meat and other animal products in moderation. To add to the variety of choices for the flexitarians, there have been a growth in the development of meat analogues that use plant-based ingredients and are designed to closely mimic meat-eating qualities. These meat alternatives have slowly etched into the mainstream food categories in the supermarkets and are often marketed directly and primarily to meat consumers rather than vegetarians or vegans. 

The key factor in developing a plant-based meat analogue lies in the ability to make it as similar to real meat. This is very much determined by the form choice of the plant protein and acts as the main foundational building block of the formulation development. Efforts in technology development has been explored heavily in the texture of the plant protein forms. Structuring the plant proteins to be similar to meat focuses on creating and mimicking the meat fibres missing in the plant protein structure. The technology of structuring plant proteins is ever advancing, with the basic use of plant protein powders in combination with texturizers, to high and low moisture extrusion, onwards to freeze structuring and shear cell technology. Currently on industrial scale, extrusion remains the dominant technology in creating texture in plant proteins. 

The form of plant protein to use depends largely on the end application form. For emulsion-type products such as sausages and hams, plant proteins in powder forms can create a good emulsion matrix.  Multiple plant proteins, such as soy, pea, potato proteins and gluten have good water binding ability and can form stable emulsions and gels with the help of suitable emulsifiers and texturizers. This type of formulation usually gives a very smooth cuttable interface. However, if a coarser chew is required, proteins that provide more texture will be added in. This can come in the form of texturized plant proteins produced by extrusion. 

There are two forms of extrusion method that can produce relatively different texturized protein forms.  One will be the low moisture extrusion method that produces the dry texturized protein pellets. This is a common ingredient used extensively as meat extenders in processed meat products. They are hydrated, slightly expanded proteins that exist in different shapes and sizes to cater to different application forms (mince, flakes, chunks). The common protein sources are soy, pea, wheat and mixtures. Mixtures are created mainly to combine and improve essential amino acids profile. An example would be the complementing of pea with rice. Rice protein is high in methionine while low in lysine. Pea protein is high in lysine, while low in methionine. Creating texturized protein combining these two proteins provide a higher quality protein profile. 

Dry texturized plant proteins need hydration as a pre-treatment step before mixing with other ingredients. After hydration, it creates a fibrous and spongy texture. While that’s adequate for restructured products such as burger patties or simply as grounded form for the Thai Pad Kra Pao, it lacks the chewiness and bite for whole muscle products such as Kung Pao stir fried chicken fillets or Indonesian grilled sate. To allow a dense meat-like bite, high moisture texturized protein analogues are created through the high moisture extrusion technology. As compared to the dry texturized protein, high moisture protein analogues are much denser and solid with more defined meat-like fibres. 

The ingredients in a dry texturized protein will mainly be plant protein powders and possibly starches, flours or insoluble fibres. Due to its purpose as an intermediate ingredient, a high moisture protein analogue can explore the use of oil to increase juiciness, fibres to improve on fibrillation and colours or flavourings to increase aesthetic appeal. There is also exploration of adding nutritional ingredients into the analogues to create a nearer-to-meat composition. 

Due to the ability of high moisture protein analogues to be similar to meat, it can be easily assembled into a convenience stir-fry ready meal; packed simply with the protein analogues and accompanied with a cooking sauce to deliver a DIY cooking kit at home for the consumers. It can also be used as an intermediate ingredient in a Vegan Sate pack with simple marination and grilling. Its utilisation can also expand to combinations with dry texturized protein in applications that require mixtures of softer and harder texture. For example, in a burger patty or meatball for a coarser bite. The ability to have more choices in the texture of plant proteins will enable creation of meat analogues that can better meet consumer expectations.

IMCD is a solution provider that delivers a full range of ingredients and services that will enable efficient innovation and formulation development. IMCD can now offer an infinite range of solutions by combining different plant proteins of various sources, forms and shapes, together with a range of binders, flavours and colours. Our customers are to use this comprehensive toolbox to build success through innovative differentiation. To assist our customers in optimising the use of these ingredients, we offer formulatory expertise and pilot trials from our fully equipped APAC Meat, Seafood & Plant-Based Meat Analogues Pilot Plant in Bangkok, Thailand. 


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