Ede, The Netherlands, April 15, 2024 – Following over two years of collaborative research involving research institutions and companies from across the food production chain, The Flavor and Texture Consortium has successfully concluded with promising results. These results hold the potential to enhance the sensory experience of plant-based food products, including meat and dairy alternatives. 

The protein transition is gaining momentum, with an increasing variety of plant-based products hitting store shelves. However, many plant-based products still face sensory challenges, such as bitterness, beany flavor, and a lack of juiciness. The Flavor and Texture Consortium was established with the aim of identifying the origin of these sensory challenges in meat and dairy alternatives and devising strategies to address them. The consortium was led by NIZO and comprised the knowledge institutes HAS Green Academy and NIZO, and companies Biospringer/Lesaffre, Brabender, Bunge, Danone, Ebro Ingredients, Edlong Flavors, and Ruitenberg Ingredients. 

Anne Marie Butler (Edlong Flavors) “Many of our customers deal with sensory challenges in their products. Resolving these often complex challenges calls for widespread collaboration, like we had in this consortium, where companies from along the food chain work together towards a single goal: making great tasting plant-based foods.”  

The consortium started by identifying sensory challenges in taste, flavor, and texture using NIZO’s trained sensory panel. Evaluating protein ingredients from yellow pea, fababean, and soybean, the panel assessed protein isolates, concentrates, and texturized vegetable proteins (TVPs). These ingredients were then incorporated into dairy- and meat-alternative model products to identify the sensory challenges in applications.

This project delved into plant-based alternatives for block cheese, high-protein beverages and burger patties, paving the way for sustainable and delicious plant-based foods.

While some sensory challenges such as bitterness, beaniness, green and astringency, occur frequently, every raw material has its own unique characteristics. Analysis of the volatile and non-volatile compounds present revealed that the same types of compounds are present in the different ingredients and products. This suggests that the ratio between the different compounds is what causes the differences between ingredients. Pinpointing an individual compound as the cause for a sensory challenge is therefore not possible.

Fred van de Velde – “Many sensory challenges do not appear to have a universal origin across ingredients and products. Therefore, resolving a sensory challenge will require tailormade solutions targeting both volatile and non-volatile compounds.”

The consortium has developed several strategies to tackle these challenges. Sensory challenges appear to be due to the balance between different compounds; therefore, strategies were developed for the removal of both volatile and non-volatile compounds, alongside masking and deodorization strategies.

Two successful strategies stand out. The first, targeting volatile compounds, proved effective for liquid products like plant-based beverages, achieving up to a 75% reduction in volatile compounds and resulting in significant taste improvement and a strong reduction in odor. There was a clear improvement compared to the reference product, especially for the attributes Pea, Green, and Soybean. The second strategy was focused on the production of deodorized protein concentrates. Protein concentrates are typically relatively strong in flavor compared to their protein isolate counterparts. To reduce their flavor intensity, Ebro Ingredients developed a deodorization technology that was tested within this consortium. The deodorized concentrates had a lower flavor intensity and an improved mouthfeel.  

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