Plant-based proteins have entered the mainstream and permeated into every area of the food chain. It is not just tofu, tempeh or seitan anymore. According to The Good Food Institute’s Plant-Based Market Overview, sales of plant-based products have risen 11% from 2018 to 2019 to $5 billion dollars. Plant-based dairy items, like almond milk, continue to grow and lead the category at 66.7% of sales. Meat analogues or meat substitutes are second at 18.9% of sales, which is an 18.4% increase over 2018.
One growing trend is flexitarianism. Flexitarians enjoy eating meat, but also want to lower their meat consumption by incorporating more plant-based proteins. Flex meats, made from both animal and plant proteins, are also popular with this group. Because of new technologies and flavors, these items along with meat analogues, which are made entirely from non-animal sources, are delicious, nutritious and relatively easy to make.
Meat analogues are well established and have been for many years, or in tofu’s case, many centuries. These days, the most popular are plant-based burgers, such as the Impossible and Beyond Meat burgers. Besides the term meat analogues, it is common to add descriptive prefixes to these products, such as meatless, veggie, vegetarian, mock, meat substitute and meat alternative. Even prior to meat analogue products going mainstream, plant-based proteins, such as soy, have been used to supplement the nutritional value of meat items especially for school lunch programs.
As you begin to explore this trending category, it’s important to understand how these products are developed and the role flavor plays.
The four senses of meat analogues
When developing meat analogues there are four components to keep in mind:
Each of them is inter-woven. For example, binding can affect flavor release and texture by changing the structure of the product to be loose like a burger or more solid like a sausage.
For texture, many products use textured vegetable proteins, with the most popular being soy or pea-protein based. Other items include, but are not limited, to mushrooms, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
Mouthfeel and texture are very similar but distinct in that mouthfeel is usually based on fat or fat-like perception, making it more palatable and succulent. Mouthfeel can also be affected by the mouthwatering effect of umami flavors.
For binding, wheat gluten has been the work horse traditionally used, but methyl cellulose or modified cellulose fits perfectly as well. It is a non-allergenic cellulose-based carbohydrate and is unique among gums in that it binds when heated, imitating animal proteins’ binding characteristics very well.
Umami is the most important flavor when replacing an animal-based product. Specific umami flavors include nutritional yeast, mushrooms, and yeast extracts. They have the ability to mask flavor notes from the vegetable proteins typically added to these products. These flavors notes can be described as earthy, beany or grainy. Not the same flavors used to describe, let’s say, a grilled bratwurst. Natural sweeteners can be added to help mask these flavors as well. In most cases at Asenzya, we use salt, spices and natural flavors to balance out vegetable flavor notes.
Trendy summer flavors make meat substitutes shine
Flavors should focus on two things: savoriness and palatability. Exciting or trendy flavors can take the meat analogue from a burger substitute to a culinary treat. Take the very popular flavor of BBQ in the summer for example, specifically American regional and international BBQ flavors.
In the Midwest, what we call BBQ is the Kansas City BBQ sauce, which is thick, tomato-based, sweet and tangy. Moving further south, Memphis BBQ sauce is also tomato-based but usually thinner and spicier. I would recommend also trying the North Carolina sauce, which is a vinegar-based mop, or South Carolina BBQ sauce, which is mustard-based. Alabama BBQ sauce is mayonnaise-based with vinegar and lemon notes. When it comes to Texas, the BBQ sauce is more of an afterthought, but if used, it is a thin and spicy tomato-based sauce.
International BBQ trends include Korean Bulgogi, containing the savory flavors of soy, ginger, and garlic with sesame. Traditionally on thinly sliced beef, but on thinly sliced seitan or your favorite plant-based burger, these flavors would work very nicely. Or use Galbi, also a Korean BBQ that is a savory, sticky sweet flavor with garlic. On seitan or tempeh, perhaps try Char Siu, a Chinese BBQ profiled as savory, sweet with slight fermented notes. Explore a Tandoori profile from India with a non-dairy yogurt, citrus and garam masala spices.
I hope I have given you some delicious food for thought and remember to protein up!