Plant-based Diet: Texture Counts For Plant-Based Success
Tuesday, July 26th, 2022
The health benefits of a plant-based diet are slowly gaining recognition among the masses. To gain insights into this area, Beneo conducted a Global Plant-based Survey in 2021 that spans 10 countries.
By Christian Philippsen, Managing Director, BENEO, Asia Pacific.
Consumers across the globe have been on the hunt for nutritional alternatives that improve wellbeing and support health; both aspects that have become a priority due to the pandemic. This shift in mentality, as well as an increasing awareness of sustainability issues, have led people to set their sights on a plant-based diet — with nearly one in two consumers across the globe being very interested in this type of diet.
BENEO’s survey also reveals that one in four consumers globally now call themselves flexitarians. Flexitarians incorporate foods from plant sources into their diets without abstaining completely from animal proteins. This in part explains the immense growth in plant-based products. In addition, there is also a demand for alternative products to meat, sausages, fish, dairy products, as well as bakery and sweets.
In their pursuit for a healthy, plant-based diet, consumers expect the alternative products to be in no way inferior to the “original”. This means that while health and sustainability are key considerations for consumers, taste and texture are still of great importance to them. This presents the food industry with the challenge of developing tasty products with familiar textures.
The great news is that with the advancement of technology, the plant-based nutrition market has progressed by leaps and bounds. Food manufacturers are now able to introduce plant-based meat, fish or dairy alternatives that are increasingly similar to the real deal.
Rice ingredients for plant-based milk alternatives
One of the markets in the plant-based diet category includes dairy alternatives. Product development in this area has made enormous progress in recent years.
Rice and its derivatives (such as rice starch and rice flour) are ideal for use in many dairy alternative products. These plant-based ingredients are increasingly convincing in terms of taste and texture. Plus, rice ingredients score high amongst consumers — BENEO’s research shows that 70% of flexitarians worldwide see rice as an appealing dairy alternative ingredient.
Rice starch, in particular, scores with its technical properties and high process stability. BENEO has a versatile portfolio of different rice starch variants on hand, making it versatile in use for different process conditions such as high temperatures or high shear forces. Applications that are cold-processed under severe process conditions are also possible, such as sauces, dressings, dairy desserts and bakery fillings.
As natural texturisers in dairy alternatives, rice starch and flour provide a creamy and smooth mouthfeel, while ensuring a clean taste and colour at the same time. This is due to the small, uniform granule size of rice starch (at 2-8 µm) which is comparable to the size of fat globules. It is therefore ideally suited to mimic a full-bodied fatty mouthfeel. That means it can be added to foods with complex textures such as chocolate mousse, ice cream or cream fillings without compromising taste.
The advantages of rice ingredients are particularly evident in the example of dairy-free yogurt alternatives. Neutral in taste and colour, rice starch and flour make masking flavours and additional colouring ingredients unnecessary in fruit preparations. While cheese alternatives are still a relatively new segment in this area, rice starch continues to meet expectations, improving spreadability in dairy-free cream cheese. On top of that, it can also serve as a natural fat replacer in various applications, allowing consumers on a plant-based diet to indulge in their favourite delicacies with peace of mind.
Mimicking real meat with plant-based proteins
Likewise for meat alternatives, the ability to mimic the same taste sensation is a key aspect for success. According to BENEO’s survey, eight in 10 flexitarians state that meat alternatives should be tender and easy to chew, like real meat, while almost seven in 10 expect a meat flavour.
This is where wheat protein shows great potential. Besides having a neutral taste profile, wheat can deliver a variety of textures in a wide range of meat-free applications. It is also an excellent source of many amino acids — such as cysteine, methionine, phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophane.
To meet the more adventurous demands of today’s flexitarian consumers who are keen on a plant-based diet, producers are looking for even more versatility when it comes to fine-tuning their plant-based product’s organoleptic profile (its taste, sight, smell, and touch) and its texture. Textured wheat protein, such as the BeneoPro W-Tex range, delivers both in terms of taste and texture, no matter the plant-based food application. It enables the creation of meat-free products such as burgers, sausages, or even dim sum fillings with a stable and authentic bite.
Producers looking for finer textures in ground meat replacement products and plant-based sausages, for instance, can make use of the recreated BeneoPro W-Tex formulation, which now comes in a smaller particle size averaging 5 mm, instead of the standard 7 mm. There’s also a variant that is especially suitable to imitate chicken products, such as nuggets or strips, due to its higher water holding capacity, which creates softer, juicier, and more chicken-like textures.
With its fibrous structure after hydration that can emulate a meat-like juicy texture, this protein can also be easily flavoured with a variety of herbs and spices — making it an optimal meat substitute that meets consumer expectations.
Where do we go from here?
The plant-based movement is far from a fad, and demand will only continue to soar as health remains the top priority, alongside other growing concerns like sustainability and animal welfare.
Delivering on both taste, mouthfeel, and texture is key to building a loyal consumer base. With readily available ingredients at their disposal, food manufacturers will be well-equipped to reinvent their catalogues and include more plant-based ingredients. This is how we can embrace a plant-based future and cater to consumer demands within the region.
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