The plant-based protein market is one of the top food trends and is growing (pun intended). In fact, Grand View Research reported that the global plant-based meat market size is projected to reach USD 24.8 billion by 2030. However, many consumers want to see more variety in forms and in protein sources. At the same time, they are also expecting their substitute-meat products to still meet their expectations for texture, taste, and appearance. So, food companies are constantly exploring ways to develop new choices but still meet customer expectations.
Here are four types of technologies that plant-based food product providers can utilize to help meet customer preferences.
1. Food Extruders
Extrusion is a common aspect of food development and production while also serving a crucial supporting role in the creation of new functional foods. Carefully chosen processing parameters can control and enhance various aspects of food such as texture, shape, color, and flavor. Food extrusion is an established, versatile method for the production of meat analogs – as well as for pastas, cereals, snacks, flavorings, nutritional additives, and animal feed products.
High moisture extrusion offers a great potential to produce a wide range of meat analog products from various plant protein sources. Products that can be achieved from this process are supposed to resemble the product texture of muscle meat.
HMMAs are soft and moist products with a directly visible fibrous, muscle-meat-like texture. Texturized proteins are defined as dry and brittle products that have a porous structure that transforms into a fibrous, meat-like texture upon rehydration. After extrusion, HMMAs and texturized proteins are further processed with conventional meat processing operations such as marinating, shredding, and blending and can be used as a plant-based meat alternative in many different types of convenience products.
As we wrote in a previous article, food extruders, including twin-screw extruders, can help produce higher quality High Moisture Meat Analog (HMMA) and texturized vegetable protein (texturized proteins).
Texturized protein and HMMA products can be manufactured using the same twin-screw extruder despite their different product characteristics by simply varying the die type and the water content used for the particular production process.
Many of the most important properties of food such as texture, stability, and shelf-life are directly linked to measurable rheological parameters.
Food materials in industrial processes often exhibit complex flow properties. Understanding the rheological properties and behavior of food materials under operating conditions is fundamental to ensuring efficient operation and quality food products. This includes food product emulsification, filling, coating, shaping, pumping and bottling processes. Rheometers can determine key properties such as steady shear viscosity, yield stress, viscoelasticity, morphology, droplet size distribution and stringiness.
Does the food look good? How does it spread? What happens if it gets cold? Consumers judge foods by such mechanical properties. Rheometers measure those properties under various conditions and compares them to original specifications as well as to the texture of real meat to help ensure satisfaction. Understanding rheological behavior helps food scientists to develop new formulations that meet consumer preferences.
3. Scanning Electron Microscopes
Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEMs) produce images of a sample by scanning the surface with a focused beam of electrons, which interact with atoms in the sample, producing various signals that contain information about the surface topography and composition of the sample. This imaging is useful for quality analysis of product texture.
With the quality information SEMs provide, food manufacturers can discover failures early and rapidly adjust the production process when needed.
4. UV-Vis Spectrophotometers
Dual beam UV-Vis spectrophotometers meet all of the specifications for critical quality control applications and precise chemical measurements. These instruments are used to measure the amount of ultraviolet and visible light absorbed by a sample which is useful for quality control, nucleic acid/protein quantification, and analysis of sample purity. It can even check the color authenticity throughout the process. Some Microvolume UV-Vis Spectrophotometers can quantify and qualify DNA, RNA, and protein samples in seconds with only 1-2 µL, and obtain full-spectral data before the decision to use samples in downstream applications.
The product characteristics of meat analog products can be produced and analyzed by the combination of extruders, microscopy, spectroscopy, and rheological tools. The product characteristics of the meat analog product — including elasticity, chewiness, and hardness — depend on the ingredient composition and extrusion process conditions. With the above analysis tools, the target product quality of the resulting meat analog products can be selected according to the consumers’ requirements.
- Webinar: Extrusion of Plant-based Meat
- Application Note: Twin-screw extrusion of plant-based meat
- White Paper: An Evaluation of Meat Analog Product Characteristics – Combining Extrusion with Electron Microscopy and Rheological Measurements
- Application Note: Small Scale Extrusion Solution for Meat Analogs