Plant-Based Frozen Desserts
Monday, August 1st, 2022
The evolution of plant-based food products have advanced rapidly in recent years. With its emergence centred around the themes of health and sustainability, increasing awareness among consumers have led to a spike in demand for plant-based products. Dr. Lai Yee, Lee of Futura Ingredients discusses plant-based frozen desserts in this insightful article.
More are showing the desire to take in less animal protein, restricting their consumption of animal-based products for health reasons and environmental concerns. Plant-based frozen desserts, in particular, have sparked interest among many.
To date, there is very limited information published with regards to plant-based frozen desserts. At present, no specific standard of identity exists for plant-based frozen desserts. As such, formulation options are boundless. To make good plant-based frozen desserts, fundamental knowledge of dairy ice creams is essential, as the recommended approach to craft plant-based frozen desserts is based on established dairy formulations and processing steps.
Over the last several decades, there has always been a “non-dairy” ice cream category where the fat source is replaced by vegetable fats. Yet, the protein sources are of dairy origin. The plant-based trend has completely phased out dairy elements from the ingredients list. We grouped ice creams and frozen desserts into three categories as shown in Table 1, listing some ingredients as examples in each type based on the composition of conventional ice creams. For instance, fat, protein, carbohydrate, texturising system and the liquid base. Water, ice and sorbet are excluded, as these frozen desserts do not contain fat, protein or dairy sources.
Formulating plant-based dairy alternatives is typically a dairy protein substitution process, during which the nutritional quality should be retained as much as possible. The composition of the original dairy product is often regarded as standard. For example, the fat, protein, and sugar level in dairy milk is often used as the reference when formulating plant protein beverages. Similarly, the level of fat, protein, carbohydrates (or sugar), total solids, and overrun* of a standard dairy ice cream serve as a starting point in formulating plant-based frozen desserts. (*Air is incorporated into ice cream during the freezing process. Overrun refers to how much the ice cream has expanded due to the incorporation of air.)
Referring to Table 1, vegetable fat can be used to replace milk fat in ice creams. This qualifies it as “non-dairy” ice cream. Similarly, a non-dairy creamer can be made with vegetable fats and contains sodium caseinate. On condition that the vegetable fats used are suitable for ice creams, the same vegetable fats could be used to make plant-based frozen desserts. Vegetable cream and coconut cream are also possible fat sources.
The protein part in dairy ice creams, known as milk solids non-fat (MSNF), needs to be eliminated to achieve full non-dairy or plant-based status. Apart from proteins, MSNF is also the source of lactose and minerals. MSNF, as a whole, has a great significance to the textural and organoleptic (sensorial) properties of ice cream. The relative sweetness is probably inconsequential, but its impact on freezing point depression is indisputable. Therefore, the freezing point depression factor in a plant-based formulation tends to be higher to counterbalance the missing functionalities from lactose and minerals in formulations that contain dairy.
The plant proteins that are typically used in plant-based frozen desserts are the concentrates or isolates with protein levels between 60–95%. Soy protein is the more common choice, but pea protein is trending due to its non-allergenic status. The source and processing of plant proteins vary among manufacturers and facilities, resulting in different properties and performances when applied to plant-based frozen desserts. The protein’s solubility and heat stability could be predicted through simple tests like dispersing into water and comparing viscosity before and after heat treatment respectively. Regardless of its functionality performances, the decisive criteria is in reality the sensorial profile of the plant protein itself and its contribution to the overall plant-based frozen desserts. Other than the conventional plant proteins, non-animal milk proteins derived from precision fermentation is also a promising alternative protein source. There are presently quite a number of commercial ice creams formulated with alternative protein sources.
Sugar in ice creams should be parked under “carbohydrates”. There could be other sources of carbohydrates added, for example, the various types of sweeteners, fibres, and bulking agents that could contribute to sweetness or substitute sugar. The key factors to take note of are the relative sweetness and freezing point depression of the overall formulation. Relative sweetness affects the eating experience, complementing the sensorial profile, enhancing its pleasingly creamy characteristics. The freezing point depression, which determines the freezing curve, significantly affects the scoopability, texture, melting profile and heat shock resistance. A high freezing curve (insufficient freezing point depression) leads to ice cream that is extremely hard and difficult to scoop during serving, while a low freezing curve (too much freezing point depression) tends to cause fast melting and poor heat shock resistance.
On the bright side, the existing carbohydrates selections used in dairy or non-dairy ice creams could be applied to plant-based formulations with some adjustments in dosage rate. Sugar free option is entirely possible in plant-based frozen dessert as compared to dairy containing formulations. Due to the presence of lactose in MSNF, dairy formulations are not sugar free even if no sugar is added to the product. The “sugar free” label can only be used when lactose free dairy ingredients are used. Sweeteners such as sugar alcohol (example erythritol and sorbitol) and intense sweeteners (such as monk fruit and stevia) are excellent combinations to achieve the required relative sweetness and freezing point depression factor. Sugar provides body to the product. However, if a sugar free label is desired, soluble fibres like inulin and polydextrose are great sugar alternatives. They can provide the body or total solids that would have been provided by sugar.
Texturising systems are ingredient solutions comprised of emulsifiers and hydrocolloids. These are applied to ice creams and frozen desserts to enhance their organoleptic and textural attributes. At the same time, they impart shelf-life stability against temperature fluctuations along the cold supply chain. Similarly, with carbohydrates, texturising systems used in dairy or non-dairy formulations could be applied to plant-based formulations, provided the texturising system is also of plant origin. Not all texturising systems are made equal. The emulsifier is typically the mono- and diglycerides (MDG), but there are various grades of products with different functionalities or capabilities that are labelled as MDG. The hydrocolloids are often used in combination for synergistic effects, ranging from a selection of locust bean gum (LBG), guar gum, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) and carrageenan, just to list a few of the common hydrocolloids found in ice creams.
For the liquid part, the premium products usually use milk and cream. Premium plant-based frozen desserts often use plant milk as a liquid base. For example, oat milk, coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk and soy milk are often substantially better in masking plant protein taste or flavours. From another point of view, the cost of formulations using water as liquid base usually has better acceptance. However, this comes with the more challenging task of mitigating the risk of the frozen desserts tasting too raw, too beany or too earthy, as how some plant proteins would be described. There are ways to deal with the undesirable taste. Nevertheless, selecting the right type and origin of plant proteins at the beginning of the developmental stage is more promising and favourable.
The advantage that any ice cream manufacturer has is, the existing set up can be used to manufacture plant-based frozen desserts. In fact, experience from dairy ice cream processing serves as an important foundation in processing plant-based frozen desserts. Crafting plant-based frozen desserts could be straightforward when working with a reliable solution provider who understands and supports your plant-based adventure. Futura Ingredients has solid technical competences and ingredient solutions designed for ice creams and plant-based frozen desserts. Reach out to Futura Ingredients for our Ekömul KREM texturising systems, Ekölite VITA Plant Protein series, Ekölite VITA Fibre series, and many more.
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