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Developing new technologies for tastier meat analogues [Interview]

Even though the range and quality of plant-based products have improved in the last decade, consumers are still often missing the ‘juicy’ experience when eating meat analogues. New technologies and ingredients are currently being developed which promise better taste and texture. We caught up with Laurice Pouvreau, Senior Scientist Protein Technology at Wageningen University and Research to find out more about the ground-breaking work they are conducting in this area.
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What types of projects related to meat analogues are you currently working on at Wageningen?

"Wageningen University and Research (WUR) is actively involved in the area of meat analogues, from technology to consumer perception.”

“Two consortia projects are running on protein structuring  towards meat analogues. Plant Meat Matters  focuses on the shear cell technology (an upcoming technology), and PlantPROMISE on extrusion technology. Both consortia are aim at gaining a better understanding of protein structuring under processing conditions like shear, temperature and pressure.”

“We’ll apply the findings to broaden the range of plant proteins used in meat analogues and to enable the use of less refined ingredients. Projects are currently in development to work toward clean label meat analogues and meat analogues with improved flavour and juiciness.”

“In our approach, we cover the entire chain from plant ingredients, via fractionation and processing towards product quality, sensorial properties, consumer acceptance and nutrition.”

What are the main challenges when it comes to creating meat analogues and which meats are easiest to replicate with plant ingredients?

“The challenges in creating meat analogues are: 1) structuring of plant proteins to mimic meat fibrous structures, as they often have lower structuring properties than animal protein upon processing, 2) flavour perception as off-notes are inherent to plant proteins, and 3) juiciness of meat analogues. Even though the range and quality of products have improved in the last decade, consumers are still often missing the ‘juicy’ experience while eating meat analogues.”

“Technologies such as mixing, forming and combining of ingredients as used for sausages, meat balls and burgers are easier to develop and can add good sensorial properties, but they do not possess the ‘bite of meat’. These products are based on TVP, produced using low moisture extrusion, which are readily available from different plant protein sources. TVP is then mixed with a stable binder to ‘glue’ the ingredients together as required, such as egg white protein in vegetarian products or methylcellulose in vegan products.”

Which existing technologies prove to be most successful for producing meat analogues?

“This is actually a very difficult question as the technology to be used depends on the type of products you aim to produce.”

“When looking at technology available at industrial scale right now, the technology which enables the closest fibrous structure to meat is high moisture extrusion.”

Which novel technologies are you working on?

“Within the WUR, we are exploring a range of technologies such as the shear cell technology which enables the formation of aligned fibrous structures, and also 3D-printing as a means to create microscopic and macrostructure fibre.”

When it comes to ingredients, which plant proteins seem to work best for these kinds of products? What about blends?

“In terms of plant protein ingredients in meat analogues, more than 50% of the market is dominated by soy proteins and wheat gluten, which is entirely due to their good functional properties. The trends are slowly changing and new products using pea protein or mung bean proteins are coming to the market. We are also seeing an increase in the use of potato proteins as binders in vegan product lines.”

“Apart from the blends of soy proteins and wheat gluten, which are well-characterised, using functional blends of proteins is an underexplored area in research, and one that will have our focus in the coming years.”

What is your prediction for the future of meat analogues?

“We expect to see the use of a broader range of plant proteins or alternative proteins, for example, from aquatic and microbial sources. We’re also looking for the application of less refined ingredients to replace the current protein isolates, which will improve the health and sustainability credentials of the end products.

“We also expect that consumers will become more demanding about the nutritional quality and number of additives in end products.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?

“We’re counting on plant-based to continue to grow and move from a niche to a more mainstream product, with strong competition between innovative startups, established FMCG brands, and traditional animal-sourced protein companies driving continuous improvement in the category. Exciting times ahead!”

Be sure to catch Laurice Pouvreau’s presentation ‘Structuring of plant proteins towards meat analogues – technologies and ingredients’ during Fi Europe CONNECT 2020.

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