The plant-based protein business is booming as nearly half of all consumers say they are choosing these alternatives more now than they did a year ago. The market explosion is explained by industry experts as an outcome of the coronavirus pandemic, evidenced by more consumers putting greater emphasis on their health and wellness, as well as the environment and sustainability.
Consumers are choosing more plant-based proteins because they are considered the better-for-you option. As a result, food manufacturers ranging from start-ups to leading consumer packaged goods companies are responding by rapidly innovating in this segment. According to the Good Food Institute’s Plant-Based Market (2020 Release), the U.S. plant-based retail market is worth more than $5 billion and that number is projected to skyrocket as market demand continues to trend upwards and ongoing innovation brings greater variety.
The Plant-Based Flavoring Process
During the virtual New Food Invest conference in March, industry leaders used baseball as an analogy for where the plant-based food industry is today, equating it to being in the first inning. Alan Hahn, CEO and co-founder of mushroom-based ingredient company MycoTechnology, said during the conference that although the category is growing, people are still asking why there should be plant-based alternatives.
“I think we’ll be in the fourth or fifth inning when that question flips,” Hahn said. “When people say, well, wait a minute. If it costs less, if it’s environmentally better, nutritionally better, tastes either at least at parity or better, then the question flips to, ‘Why do we need to make that whole animal-based economy?’”
As consumer awareness continues to increase, that question will begin to flip and if you’re not already playing the game, time is of the essence to get your starting lineup in place. Whether you want to focus on plant-based meat, dairy, or seafood, it’s important to recognize that a product’s success always lies in the flavor. The more a plant-based protein tastes like the real thing, the more willing consumers are to continue buying it.
At Innova Flavors, we have figured out these nuances over the years by perfecting the art and science of flavoring plant-based foods. We have become the premier specialists in meat and savory flavors, enhancers, and taste modifiers, including vegan and clean label flavors.
So how do you get mouth-watering flavor for your plant-based product every time? In this article, we walk you through the basics of flavoring plant-based food from choosing the right protein to how flavor modulation helps achieve your target flavor profile. If you already have the basics down, you can skip ahead to learn more about our two-step flavoring process here or contact us to get started on your flavor journey today.
Choosing Plant-Based Proteins
Soy, pea, and wheat are used by many plant-based meat producers as the main ingredient to create substrates. Each plant species has a unique composition of protein types and what we buy in the grocery store is a complex mixture of many types of protein.
Popular, synergistic combinations include pea and potato; chickpea and rice; and soy and wheat. Pea and potato are used as the bricks-and-mortar for burgers and other comminuted plant-based meats. Chickpea and rice are complementary, combining a legume with a grain. Soy and wheat are combined to optimize meat-like texture for muscle structured plant-based meat via high moisture extrusion.
Choosing the optimum plant-based protein ingredients depends on many considerations, but the most common parameters include:
· Protein content and quality
· Nutrition and claims
· Allergenicity and intolerance
· Familiarity with use
· Aroma, flavor, texture, mouthfeel, color
Consumers’ first experience or gateway food into plant-based alternatives is most often with a burger patty like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat, which use soy and pea protein, respectively. However, as more consumers have become familiar with plant-based foods, 93 percent now say they are willing to try meat alternative products with new, unique types of plant-based proteins. The Good Food Institute reports alternative plant-based proteins with growth potential include sunflower, mung bean, potato rice, duck weed, and chickpea.
Understanding Your Product and Processes
Now that you’ve got a better idea of which plant proteins are best suited to create your product; the flavoring process is how you achieve competitive advantage. It’s what determines whether you hit a home run or strike out.
When working with a flavoring company like Innova Flavors, we first need to understand your process and how you plan to create your product. Process is always important when it comes to flavoring, but even more so in plant-based products. Collaboration between you and your flavor company is key to understanding what conditions the product will go through to ensure the flavor provided performs as expected.
What is in your matrix?
While the plant-based protein ingredients are important contributors, what else is in your formula that contributes, interacts, or modifies the flavor component? For example, maybe you are using potassium chloride because you want a low sodium version of your product. Well, that brings metallic and bitterness into the flavor in addition to whatever the substrate brings which will impact flavoring.
When flavoring plant-based substrates, taste modulation through masking, enhancers, and salt reduction will improve the perceived flavor or how you taste the product. Masking allows you to start with a neutral canvas and build the flavor profile from there. The key here is to mask first and flavor second to avoid masking an ingredient you didn’t mean to remove from the flavor profile.
Enhancers are used when you want to lift or make a flavor profile stand out. Like masking, enhancers will change the flavor and may require rebalancing of your formula to achieve the right flavor profile.
Two taste enhancers include umami and kokumi. Umami refers to the savory flavor of meaty dishes and is defined as the fifth basic taste. It enhances the four other tastes (sweet, sour, salt, and bitter), and has its own savory taste described as meaty, brothy, and savory. Kokumi magnifies and lengthens the five basic tastes. It provides continuity, mouthfulness, heartiness, and thickness.
Innova Flavors’ SaltSavor™ is a proprietary sodium reduction technology that stimulates taste receptors on your tongue delivering the desired taste perception of salt, reducing sodium without sacrificing taste. This clean label flavor enhancer is effective in numerous applications and works well in collaboration with a variety of ingredients without significant modification to product formulation.
The Challenges of Flavoring Plant-Based Protein
We emphasize the importance of collaboration with your flavor company because the biggest challenges are in the creation and how your product’s end-use. Are you losing flavor throughout your production process? In the shelf-life? During the cooking process?
Knowing what a plant-based product endures from start to finish will ensure lasting flavor. For example, if the product will be fried at a high temperature before consumption, more flavor needs to be used to allow for some to be lost in that process or the flavor needs to be protected so it releases when needed and not before.
In general, plant-based protein requires a higher level of flavor usage versus non-vegetable protein because of its chemistry. Concentrated flavoring is the most cost-effective way to flavor your product as a little goes a long way.
Visit our “5 Valuable Benefits of Using Concentrated Flavoring” blog to learn more about how to use concentrated flavoring to your advantage.
How to Avoid ‘Bad’ Flavor
“Bad” flavor is relative. What we mean by that is if you are drinking matcha tea, for example, you expect bitterness and green notes. There are certain attributes that are intrinsic to ingredients and consumers expect it.
However, let’s say you are using moringa to create a burger patty because you want to provide the health benefits and protein level that come along with the ingredient. It would be difficult to flavor the patty with a delicate flavor profile because moringa’s bitter taste will fight it, causing a “bad” flavor. Instead, try using pesto to bring in green notes that will complement the substrate easily.
Plant-based food processors often struggle with finding the right flavor profile because frankly, it’s not easy. At Innova Flavors, we have been flavoring plant-based proteins since 2003. We know that how food tastes is of the utmost importance, which is why we work closely with our customers to discover their gold standard flavor profile; develop the flavor from ideation to mouth-water completion; and deliver a winning flavor that is profitable long-term.
So, if you’re looking for a flavor partner for your custom foods, let’s set a meeting to talk about your flavor needs.