Heat It Up! The Effects of Heat Processing on Plant-Based Foods

Consumers worldwide care about their health and the health of the planet more than ever before. In fact, a McKinsey survey found that in the last two years, 64% of consumers in the US and 50% globally have worked to adopt plant-based diets with healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyles.

This increase in environmental and health-centred consciousness is one of the primary drivers for the plant-based food revolution unfolding before our eyes.

As this lifestyle continues to become more mainstream, consumers are beginning to demand a wider range of higher-quality and highly functional plant-based products that can fit naturally into their everyday lifestyles. 

For developers looking to meet these needs with innovative and delicious products, it’s necessary to understand the vital role that processing conditions, such as heat, play in the production and enjoyment of your plant-based foods. 

Thermal processing can present numerous benefits and challenges for plant-based developers and their end users. Understanding these complexities and flavour’s role in the process can help create a winning combination for consumers’ palettes and the planet.

Food thermal processing

Heat – The Good, The Bad, and The Necessary

Heat processing is utilised in the development of a wide variety of products and categories across the industry, especially in plant-based. These processes can be applied for multiple reasons and at various stages before your product even reaches store shelves.

Depending on your application, heating can extend shelf life, denature proteins, activate functional ingredients, and even change the texture and flavour of products or any combination thereof. 

Many plant-based cheeses, for example, may need to be heated to at least 85℃ for both functionality and safety purposes. Many alternative dairy products can often contain modified starches, like potato, that only become functional when processed at these high temperatures.

The meaning of functional can vary greatly by both product and ingredient. In the case of our plant-based cheese demos, heating activates the starches to provide form and structure. Without it, the base would remain in a liquid state not at all resembling a dairy cheese! 

For ingredients like protein, thermal processing can cause denaturation. These physical changes to the protein’s structure not only can impact its texture but, in some cases, it can also improve its digestibility. With a market-wide focus on added nutritional value, especially protein, this can be quite beneficial for creating healthier, more attractive, products for consumers.

a plant-based cheese pizza that can go under heat processing

However, reaching your desired functionality through heat requires precision.  Developing with ingredients like gums, starches, and stabilisers can do wonders for the structure and texture of your product, at the wrong levels, they could disrupt your processing and possibly even damage your production equipment.

With that said, the most significant impact heat processing can have on the success or failure of your product is its sensory perception; in other words, how it tastes.

Although it can add desirable cooked and toasted flavour notes to your application, think bakery or fried foods, it often comes with some drawbacks. The high temperatures of thermal processing can create unwanted off-notes, destroy aroma compounds, and/or modify the texture and pigment enough to negatively affect the overall sensory experience of your product.

Fortunately, flavours, particularly those that can handle the heat, help bridge the gap.

Flavours That Can Take the Heat

Choosing ingredients for your plant-based product that are nutritionally sound, functional, taste great, and can withstand processing is a challenge. Luckily, Edlong’s R&D experts can help.

Whether your product goes through blanching, pasteurisation, sterilisation (UHT, Canning), etc., our flavour solutions are built to withstand these temperatures from the very beginning of the process.

A fantastic example of this is the top-selling category in the whole plant-based market: plant-based milk. These products can be derived from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, or whole grains, each presenting its own taste challenges even before they encounter high temperatures. 

Utilising heat stable dairy-type flavours in these developments can improve mouthfeel and assist in masking off-notes from ingredients and processing. Depending on your desired profile, they can also build authentic dairy milk notes or honour the plant-derived ingredients, letting notes from the source shine through while still creating a balanced profile.

plant-based milk can take heat processing

Texture also plays a role in how consumers perceive taste. If your product thickens or gels upon heating, it can change how a flavour is released and perceived. Meaning, you may need to tweak your usage level to get the same impact as a liquid product.

Understanding the variety of ways flavour can help you overcome the challenges of heat processing in production is necessary for achieving a tasty product your consumers are sure to appreciate.

Round Two: Standing Up to The Heat of End-Users

It is not enough having heat processed plant-based products that undergo thermal processing and are still delicious by the time they hit the stores. They still need to taste as good when they finally hit your consumers’ plates. 

If they use a plant-based mozzarella and want to put it in a panini or cook it with their pasta, that flavour still must survive the stovetop, the microwave, or however they choose to heat it.

Take a plant-based barista milk that went through UHT, for example. It’s one thing for it to froth, but if it can’t stand up to the acidity of the espresso, you can’t sell that latte.

Collaboration from the start of the development process with knowledgeable flavour partners, like our experts here at Edlong, who understand the interaction between these ingredients can be the key to unlocking the potential of heat-treated plant-based foods.

With our expert flavourists and experienced applications team, we can find the right flavours and solutions to help your plant-based product handle the heat and taste great from production to your consumers’ kitchens.

Ready to collaborate? Our team is here to support your plant-based food innovation and product development projects. Request a consultation with one of our Edlong’s global R&D experts.

About the Author: Emily Sheehan, Applications Manager, EMEA

Hi! I’m Emily Sheehan. I’m the Applications Manager, EMEA at Edlong, and my job is rooted in creating exciting new possibilities for our people and processes. It’s inspiring to reflect on how much Edlong has achieved and even more amazing to be involved in such thoughtful innovation. We enjoy pushing boundaries in food and flavour, and we welcome everyone in the food industry to join us. If you’re in need of expertise or inspiration, I’d love to collaborate and help you design flavour solutions that resonate with consumers!

Topics: Plant-Based
Resource Type: Article
Resource Region: EUUS


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