The art of succulence: Suppliers detail winning strategies for texturizing meat alternatives
07 Oct 2021 --- Technologies for texturizing meat alternatives have evolved in a myriad of ways to meet highly sophisticated consumer demands. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to key suppliers in the plant-based arena to explore how industry is adapting, with new advances in fermentation, extrusion and cell culturing.
With the alt-protein product aisle rapidly diversifying, there is high demand for technologies that help bring meat analogs closer to authentically mimicking muscle structure of a wider array of animal species.
“There is a notable cross-disciplinary exchange of technologies between, for instance, polymer processing and food product processing – such as extrusion or bioprocessing – and ingredient processing, such as in biofermentation or cultured meat processing,” remarks Marjorie Welchoff, senior associate scientist, global food texture science technology platform at Ingredion.
“The technologies that used to be bench-scale are now evolving to become more commercially viable, allowing scale-up. Today, the latest technologies are exploring a more top-down approach, such as shear cell or extrusion. There are also newer companies exploring scalability of the bottom-up approaches – like spinning to produce protein fibers – to create the structures of meat.”
Mimicking fish meat
One difficulty in the future will be to create texturized vegetable proteins for white fish alternatives, highlights Florian Bark, product manager at plant-based solutions provider Planteneers.
“This is because protein concentrates used in them have a beige to brownish hue and do not give a bright white color in fish alternatives. To achieve satisfying results for white fish alternatives, plant protein manufacturers and extruder companies need to work closely together.”
Earlier this year, Planteneers developed a range of texturized vegetable proteins and plant-based binders, called fiildTex and fiildFish, to help manufacturers catch the wave of catch-free seafood with vegan sushi, salmon and tuna alternatives.
Unlike whole chicken or beef muscle, the hierarchical structure of seafood myofibrillar tissues is different, notes Akshay Arora, global technical manager, plant-based proteins at Ingredion.
“These fibers are short (nanometer level) and provide a soft fibrous-gel texture. To simulate the texture, taste, and appearance of seafood, formulation systems have proven effective. Typically, these include a combination of plant proteins with thickening or gelling agents, hydrocolloids, fibers, fats and salts for texture.”
Last month, GoodMills Innovation launched a line of texturates made from wheat, soy and peas, as part of its Vitatex brand. The texturates are ideal for the production of fish alternatives, as well as meat substitutes.
Beginning at the cellular level
The biggest challenge in making plant-based products taste and feel like meat or dairy lies within the cells themselves. Plant-based products are often made of soy, pea, or almond protein, all of which have different cell structures than traditional meat or dairy, which can lead to products that have a different mouthfeel and taste.
Depending on the protein, some plant-based products can have a gritty texture or a flavor with bitter notes.
“In the case of some materials like fungi, the whole cells themselves may already naturally impart a structure suitable for meat substitutes,” highlights Christoph Vogel, head of market segment proteins and ingredients at Bühler Group.
There are three primary processes for texturizing meat substitutes, as detailed by Robert Mitchell, lead process engineer at Bühler. The first is the process in which the globular proteins present in plants are unfolded and aligned into a fibrous structure using thermomechanical energy input.
“By far, the most common way to do this at a meaningful scale is with extrusion technology, where twin-screws are used as the main mechanism to provide the necessary mixing and shearing to achieve this goal,” he explains.
Next, there is the method of fermenting microorganisms to provide the proteins for texturization. But perhaps the most novel texturizing method is that used to create cell-based meat – where animal stem cells are differentiated, usually on a scaffolding material – and proliferated in a bioreactor.
Singapore-based Shiok Meats, for instance, specializes in cell-based shrimp meat for dumplings and other shrimp-based dishes, with plans to expand to more fully-formed cultured lobster and crab products in the coming years. The company, which landed US$12.6 million in funding for its commercial pilot plant in 2020, processes its antibiotic- and hormone-free cultured shrimp meat through a 3D printer for an authentic look and bite.
US-based Matrix Meats utilizes a manufacturing process called electrospinning, which was developed using more than 15 years of research of developing three-dimensional nanofiber “scaffolds” for regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.
This proprietary process transforms an array of different synthetic or organic compounds into a structural replacement for the non-muscle, non-fat (extracellular) proteins in all types of cell-based meat. With its technology, Matrix Meats can input variables such as vitamins, minerals and growth factors into its scaffolds.
InnovoPro launches industry’s first textured chickpea protein
Following an US$18 million investment in November, Chickpea protein supplier InnovoPro has rolled out what it claims to be the world’s first-ever textured chickpea protein that enables food manufacturers to develop much better meat analogue products such as hamburgers, nuggets and meatballs.
The fibrous-textured product is a combination of chickpea and pea proteins. It helps formulators work with non-allergenic recipes that have fewer ingredients than traditional, highly-processed plant-based alternatives, while providing ample flavor and texture.
InnovoPro is now teaming up with US manufacturer Cereal Ingredients to bring its textured chickpea protein to the American market.
Among its notable characteristics, the chickpea crop is high in protein, fiber and iron. Protein derived from this legume allows for cleaner labeling with no need for the emulsifiers, enhancers or masking agents necessary with competing analogs.
The plant-based protein source also holds notable eco-credentials, such as a comparatively lower water usage and a carbon footprint with rotational qualities.
“The launch of Innovopro’s TVP is a game-changing innovation for the fast- growing meat analog market because it allows companies to create consumer-favorite foods, clean labeled, with a great-tasting, nutritious superfood ingredient that is rich in protein and has desirable amino acids combination,” remarks Taly Nechuthshtan, CEO at InnovoPro.
“This product is also sustainable and better for the environment than previous meat alternatives.”
InnovoPro will be premiering their texturized vegetable protein at the SupplySide West Conference in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, US, (October 25 to 28). The company will hold tastings of its different applications including chickpea buffalo dip, burgers, nuggets and other alternative meats.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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