Meaty by nature

How manufacturers are boosting the sensory experience of plant-based meat alternatives

There’s nothing quite like that first bite of a thick, juicy, savory, all-beef burger. Or is there? Food manufacturers have been searching for this holy grail for years—attempting to recreate a meat-like experience with plant-based alternatives; and science is getting us closer to the real thing.

It’s a lucrative endeavor for food manufacturers who hope to turn meat lovers into plant-based buyers. Considering the number of consumers who are increasingly health and eco conscious, along with meat shortages and rising prices, the time is right. According to recent Nielsen research only 21.6% of U.S. households are purchasing meat alternatives now, but 62% said they are willing to reduce meat consumption due to environmental concerns; and 43% say they would replace meat-based protein with plant-based protein.

While brands have made huge strides in capitalizing on this trend, there’s still plenty more market share to gobble up—and room for improvement in taste and texture. Once formulators conquer the latter, there’s a whole world of carnivores to convert.

Why we love meat

Human’s taste for meat goes back millions of years. According to experts, meat played a critical role in the evolution of our larger-than-average brains which use up about 20% of the body’s total energy. The protein-packed, energy-dense nature of meat meant our ancestors expended less energy (on digestion and in constant search of seeds and plants) which allowed us to evolve into modern humans. 

With that background, it’s easy to understand the incredible challenge for plant-based meat manufacturers. To win over consumers, they must match the organoleptic properties of an experience that is seared into our DNA.

The challenge of taste and texture

Taste and mouthfeel are two of the biggest organoleptic challenges when it comes to plant-based meat alternatives; but how it looks, smells and even acts during cooking also play a role in ultimate customer satisfaction. In each of these elements, fat is a common denominator.

Because plants don’t carry a high level of inherent fat, formulators must find other ingredients to recreate the taste, lubricity, mouthfeel and juiciness of the fats present in animal proteins. Traditional plant-based fats don’t solve this challenge even when formulated into the products at very high levels. That’s partly because they tend to bleed out of the substrate quickly during cooking; and the result is a greasy, unpleasant end product.

Taste is another issue—for which formulators must add higher amounts of salt and other flavoring to cover up. Finally, plant fats and proteins act differently in terms of binding, emulsification and more. It’s no wonder manufacturers are still searching for the holy grail.

EPG holds promise

The good news is, relatively new ingredients are showing great promise in helping manufacturers re-create the experience of meat—in ways that have shown to be safe and effective. EPG, the fat alternative made by Epogee®, is one of these ingredients—the result of 30 years of R&D and more than 60 studies (among the strongest of any new food ingredient).

EPG is made from natural, plant-based oil, which is split apart into glycerin and fatty acids. Then, a food-grade propoxyl connector re-links the fatty acid and glycerin to produce a material that looks, feels, tastes and cooks like fat.

In recent studies, EPG tended to maintain its stability within plant-based proteins at a much greater rate than traditional plant-based fats or oils. Where many traditional plant-based fats and oils rapidly bleed out of the substrate after being heated past the melting point, EPG-based fat blends tended to remain in the substrate at a greater rate, delivering a mouthfeel (juiciness, succulence and weight on the palate) more akin to real meat. What’s more, EPG enhances moisture retention in formulation to minimize the dryness common in some plant-based meat alternatives.

Of equal importance is how EPG enhances the nutritional profile of plant-based products. It’s the only ingredient on the market that can cut 92% of calories from total fat and saturated fat (for each unit of fat replaced) without compromising taste, texture or functionality.

Interested in how EPG can help you level-up your plant-based formulations? Contact Jayme Caruso, our Chief Commercial Officer, at jcaruso@epogee.com or reach out through our website.