4 questions smart plant-based meat brands are asking

Plant-based meats as we know them today are a far cry from their ‘80s and ‘90s predecessors. They look, taste and feel more like the real thing; but there are still trails to be blazed and a long way to go to grow consumer adoption past 1.5% market share. And as sales decelerate and the early buzz fades, plant-based meat manufacturers are taking a hard look at their formulations. Specifically, how can they improve their taste and texture—without sacrificing nutritional attributes? We’re looking at the questions today’s plant-based meat formulators are asking themselves—and their ingredient partners.

How can I better mimic animal fat in my plant-based meat products?

When it comes to emulating real meat taste and texture, the right fat is the holy grail. But historically, the options have been limited—and limiting. The oils traditionally used in plant-based meats (coconut or other plant oils) make for an overly greasy product because they tend to bleed out of the substrate more during cooking and fail to coat the mouth in the same way animal fat does. Fortunately, ingredient scientists are moving more toward comprehensive fat systems—sophisticated and proprietary combinations of two or more fats engineered as a single ingredient. Formulators should look for a fat system with a unique fatty acid composition that can mimic animal fat—with similar density, melting point and taste and texture implications.

How can I be sure the alternative ingredients I’m using are safe?

The plant-based meat category has been the first to use several new ingredients in the quest to recreate real meat. Heme, for example—while regarded as generally safe—has had its share of controversy. Add to that famous debacles around the alternative fats and sweeteners of the ‘90s (Olestra, for one), and it’s no wonder that formulators are gun-shy about using new, unproven ingredients. There’s no shortcut to proving health and safety, so formulators should look for ingredients that have withstood several third-party tests and evaluations. Alternative fat product EPG, for example, has been rigorously tested in more than 60 studies—among the strongest data packages ever developed for a new food ingredient. It’s also an ingredient backed by almost 30 years and $150 million in R&D.

What are the flavor implications of the ingredients I use?

Back to the fat conversation: Food formulators know that traditional animal-based fats have strong implications on flavor. That’s because these fats perfectly encapsulate and disperse the flavors present in a food—creating the mouthfeel we know and love and coating the tongue fully in flavor. This has been one of the biggest challenges for plant-based food formulators, who often have to add salt, sugar or other ingredients to compensate for the lack of animal fat and achieve the desired flavor profile. But by finding alternative fat systems that mimic the properties of animal fat, formulators can not only improve mouthfeel, but maintain and enhance desirable flavors—without the need to overcompensate.

How can I be sure the alternative ingredients I’m using are healthy?

According to a survey from the International Food Information Council, “Healthfulness” is the primary reason consumers would choose to eat plant-based meats. But the health of these products has come into question as of late, and brands are taking a close look at their formulations to ensure they make the grade. And while typical plant-based meats are inherently lower in fat than the real thing, consumers will still pay close attention to the label. Traditional plant-based oils are high in saturated fat, which could be a turn-off for health-conscious consumers. But removing fat can affect mouthfeel and require the addition of other undesirable additives (see below) to maintain taste.

Alternative fat EPG can help formulators cut fat significantly, without any organoleptic tradeoffs. In fact, EPG can replace up to 80% of fat in a formulation and reduce total fat, saturated fat and fat calories by 92% for each unit of fat replaced. And because it contains a unique set of fatty acids that better mimics animal fat (thus solving the texture challenges formulators face) it eliminates the need for common work-around ingredients like starches, gums, binders and flavor enhancers for a simpler label. Finally, EPG appears on labels as “EPG (modified plant-based oil)” and is one of the cleanest ingredients to consume. Using technology that resists digestive enzyme action, calories are controlled and released through the key part of digestion, without depleting fat-soluble vitamins in the body or limiting their absorption (and with no digestive side-effects).

EPG is a groundbreaking fat alternative made from plant-based oil that dramatically improves the sensory attributes of plant-based meats while reducing total calories from fat.

Talk to an Epogee plant-based meat expert today about ways to bring your brand to the next level.