Better taste and texture are key to the future of plant-based meats—A sensory panel report from Epogee

As far as culinary histories go, plant-based meats are still pretty green (no pun intended). In fact, even with the surge in the popularity of the Gardenburger brand in the late ‘90s, it took another two decades to get to the “meatless meat” we know today; unlike previous iterations, today’s plant-based meat products aim to taste, look, smell and even feel as much as possible like the real thing.

It’s a type of product meant to appeal to vegetarians and carnivores alike, but formulators are still working through the organoleptic challenges. There are very few studies surrounding the sensory perceptions of meat analogs—and what consumers find acceptable in terms of taste, smell and mouthfeel.

Of the studies that have been done, the biggest weaknesses of plant-based meats were related to texture—with participants citing rubbery mouthfeel, insufficient juiciness, undesirable firmness and greasiness.

It’s no surprise that mouthfeel is as big of a challenge (if not bigger) than taste for plant-based meat manufacturers. Plants don’t carry a high level of inherent fat, which makes it very difficult to recreate the taste, lubricity, mouthfeel and juiciness of animal proteins—even when adding in additional veggie-friendly fats.


What’s at steak

For food brands investing in plant-based meat alternatives, there’s a lot to lose. According to Food Business News, retail sales of plant-based meat alternatives are decelerating. Experts say this could be for several reasons (including clean-label concerns), and unmet expectations no doubt play a role. So improving the taste and texture of these products could be a game-changer.

Where should formulators begin? If food science tells us anything, it’s to focus on the fat. One global flavor company did just that, conducting a sensory panel that rated the flavor, texture and mouthfeel of plant-based burgers with varying levels of EPG—the fat alternative from Epogee that is derived from naturally-sourced, plant-based oil. The recent study backs up Epogee’s claim that EPG enhances organoleptic properties of plant-based meats without adversely affecting the food’s nutritional profile.


The results are in

The company used its established set of flavor and mouthfeel criteria to determine what level of EPG (if any), created the most desirable experience for a group of 10 panelists who were pre-screened for sensory acuity. Three plant-based burgers were up for review: A) A control burger (the company’s traditional plant-based burger); B) The control burger with 5% EPG; and C) The control burger formulated for 70% fat reduction and 7.2% EPG.

The results are exciting for food formulators looking for the holy grail of meat analogs: In both burgers with EPG, positive flavor notes (e.g., umami, meaty) were largely maintained/unaffected while off-notes (e.g. bitter, burnt) were improved. What’s more, moisture perception (juiciness) increased.


EPG Evaluation in Plant Based Burgers
Descriptive Profiling: Control vs Low Does EPG


More praise for EPG

In addition to the third-party review of plant-based burgers, Epogee did their own taste test at the recent Plant Based World Expo—and the reviews were exciting. Attendees who tasted Epogee’s plant-based burger formulation (made with EPG) gave it a 4.5 on a five-point scale (five being the best) for juiciness and a four on overall eating enjoyment. Tasters noted that the product mimicked the experience of a real burger, with a favorable mouthfeel that “lingers”, has an “impressive mouth-coating feel”, “nicely coats the palate with a long finish” and has a “gradual fat release.” Other comments included:

“I like the richness it leaves in my mouth. Tastes like a burger off the grill!”

“Juiciness and ‘fat’ flavor perceived, it's amazing.”

“Amazing!!”

“Surprised by juiciness!”

“I like the richness it leaves in my mouth. Tastes like a burger off the grill!”


Interested in the science behind EPG and its many benefits for plant-based formulators? Read this post or get in touch with us today.