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How dietary fibres can shape plant-based meat alternatives

Article-How dietary fibres can shape plant-based meat alternatives

© iStock/Luis Echeverri Urrea RS, dietary fibre from soy, Luis Echeverri Urrea, iStock-1192074466.jpg
While dietary fibres can be used to enhance the textural and functional properties of both processed meats and plant-based alternatives, the question of which one to choose requires careful consideration of factors such as source, solubility, and chemical structure.

Producers of processed and hybrid meat products use dietary fibres to make products healthier, tastier, and improve their texture. As plant-based alternatives struggle to achieve properties such as juiciness and chewiness, interest in how dietary fibres could be used to solve this challenge has gained momentum.

A scientific review published in the journal Foods earlier this month found that several studies suggest incorporating dietary fibres can significantly enhance plant-based products’ quality and nutritional value.

However, the researchers, from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), highlighted a gap in the literature, with fewer studies looking at dietary fibres’ impact on the texture of plant-based alternatives than on meat.

Known applications of dietary fibres and their effects

The researchers examined the specific mechanisms by which dietary fibres enhance textural properties. The incorporation of insoluble dietary fibres into meat and plant-based formulations was found to improve gel strength and emulsion stability by interacting with proteins and fats to form stable structures. This not only helps products to maintain their integrity during processing and storage, but can also improve the mouthfeel and overall sensory experience for consumers.

Manufacturers looking to increase the hardness and cohesiveness of plant-based meat alternatives could benefit from the inclusion of inulin, pectin, and insoluble dietary fibre – as a study using those fibres extracted from Belgian endive and applied to soy-based burgers found significant improvements in those dimensions.

The addition of citrus pectin in a seafood scallop alternative had a similar effect on hardness and chewiness, while guar gum and K-carrageenan also enhanced hardness, springiness, cohesiveness, and gumminess when introduced to a soy-based extruded meat analogue.

In contrast, β-glucan and insoluble dietary fibre fraction from oat fibre reduced the hardness and other dimensions of the machinal strength of a pea protein product. Insoluble dietary fibres from sweet potato also had a softening and relaxing effect on the rigid control structure of vegetable patty analogues.

The research also highlighted the role of dietary fibres in moisture retention. By increasing water-holding capacity, the dietary fibres derived from Belgian endive and pectin and insoluble dietary fibre from pea fibre helped maintain juiciness, addressing a common challenge in plant-based meat production.

This property is particularly beneficial in enhancing the palatability of these products, making them more appealing to consumers who are accustomed to the succulence of traditional meat.

Various dietary fibres impacted the colour of the plant-based meat products. Xanthan, guar gum, and locust bean gum increased the browning index of pea- and wheat-based meat analogues, and iota-carrageenan had the same effect on a blended pea- and wheat-based meat alternative.

Meanwhile, sweet potato stem fibre increased the yellowness of vegetable patties, while decreasing redness and lightness.

Dietary fibres: Health and functional benefits

Beyond improving texture and colour, dietary fibres provide significant health benefits.
A key aspect of dietary fibres is their ability foster a healthy gut microbiome.

The fermentation of fibres by gut bacteria produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which play a crucial role in maintaining gut health and reducing inflammation. SCFAs like butyrate are essential for providing energy to colon cells, improving the gut barrier function, and preventing leaky gut syndrome.

Additionally, dietary fibres have been shown to aid in reducing plasma cholesterol levels. Soluble fibres, in particular, bind to cholesterol in the digestive system, preventing its absorption and helping to lower overall cholesterol levels. This can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, making fibre-enriched foods a beneficial choice for heart health.

Weight management is another significant benefit. Dietary fibres increase satiety, helping to control appetite and reduce overall caloric intake. By slowing down digestion and prolonging the feeling of fullness, fibres can play a crucial role in weight management strategies.

All these functions align with the growing consumer demand for healthier food options. As reported last year on Ingredients Network, consumer perceptions of dietary fibres have already evolved from being known solely for intestinal regularity to offering broader health benefits, including prebiotic effects that support gut health.

Sustainability and upcycling

Dietary fibres can also be produced using highly sustainable practices, with many opportunities for upcycled ingredients such as fruit peels, vegetable trimmings, and cereal husks.

By conserving raw materials while minimising the environmental impact of food production, manufacturers can create high-value ingredients that enhance the nutritional profile of foods while appealing to an increasingly environmentally conscious consumer base.