Plant-based products have seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the past few years, growing from $5.5 billion in US sales in 2019 to $8 billion in 2022. That comes out to a staggering 44.5% increase in US sales in just over three years!
The reasons for consumers’ growing adoption of plant-based alternatives can vary from environmental to nutritional and everything in between. Still, as Angela Lantman, Edlong Applications Manager, NA, says, ultimately the future success of any product comes down to one simple thing, “Regardless of everything else, at the end of the day, for most consumers, food is about enjoyment. If consumers don’t like how it tastes, they won’t buy it.”
For plant-based developers, the reality is that with higher sales come higher taste expectations. Considering that taste & texture already ranked as the #1 thing holding consumers back from considering plant-based products, how can developers overcome this hurdle? (Innova Trends Survey 2021)
To answer this question, we reached out to a few of Edlong’s R&D experts to see just how much leveraging fat, salt, and pH/acid can impact the taste and success of your plant-based products.
Fat for Flavor Delivery
“Fat is very important in flavor delivery. However it’s not just about how much fat, but the melting profile as well,” says Monica Gotomo Kapoor, Principal Scientist and Global Ingredients Specialist, stressing the multifaceted role of fat in all food products.
She explains how a balance of these factors is what helps give dairy the taste experience consumers love, “This is the beauty of milk fat. When you eat cheese, you get that good melt and a really nice flavor release. It’s very well-balanced. But, now, imagine making a plant-based cheese with non-animal fat [this difference] may make it seem like the flavor is compromised.”
Anne Druschitz, Corporate Research Chef, CRC, sees this as one of the main struggles when approaching plant-based dairy products, “From a fat perspective, these plant-based fats are not 1:1 with dairy fat in the way they taste or how they behave. You have to look at the whole puzzle to find out which pieces are missing.”
In other words, this is where the science of taste meets the art of finding balance. As important as flavor is to creating a delicious profile for your product, a lack of balance in your fats can render it null and void.
Drucschitz explains how this might require combining different plant-based fats with different textures, profiles, and melting points to achieve the eating experience and flavor release your consumers crave.
Salt is More than Savory
“Salt has a functionality in products; it’s there for a reason,” says Lantman. In addition to its functionality for preservation and stability, she believes you can’t really have a delicious product without salt, “You can only remove so much before your food becomes bland. We put salt on vegetables because we want to bring out those flavors. It’s the same in dairy products; we’ll even put it in beverages to ensure those flavors come through.”
Where fat is there to help deliver flavor, salt is there to enhance it.
However, as with everything in the realm of taste, balance is crucial.
According to Kapoor, in order to effectively talk about balance with salt, we need to first be clear on what we’re looking for, “When we are talking about the science of taste, salt might be an oversimplification. This is because, for some, sodium can mean savoriness or umami and to others, it could just be saltiness that they are looking for.”
Do you need salt to bring out the full impact of the cheesiness, or can an umami-packed flavor paired with the notes of your plant-based protein give you the savory taste your product needs?
By understanding the nuance of your target profile, our experienced team can help you regulate salt usage to achieve the balance needed for your product’s success.
pH – Acids Work Double Duty
When people describe dairy, acidity is probably not the first word that comes to mind. However, considering that everything from cheeses to yogurts and even sour creams are products of fermentation, it probably should.
The tart, sour, tangy, and cultured notes that characterize these profiles are all by products of these natural processes. Recreating these notes for plant-based dairy makes understanding the role of pH a top priority.
As Kapoor puts it, “When considering pH, milk is more neutral, as to where yogurt or cheese is more acidic. So, if you’re making a cheese sauce and it tastes like milk that’s because it’s not acidic enough. Honestly, it’s not going to taste good. On top of this, the range of cheesiness and sour varies so much from cheese to cheese. There might be a tanginess but it isn’t puckering. Finding this balance is important.”
However, Lantman stresses that achieving this balance isn’t always easy because of the dual role acid plays in products, “Coffee, dairy, etc need a certain Ph for stability, but even a small change in the ph can drastically change the profile.”
She continues, “To get to certain places of shelf stability or other functions you may need a certain level of acidity, but this can cause problems if you are looking for a smoother creamier flavor. Dairy flavors can help you bring that back to your product.”
Lantman explains how with the use of ingredients like buffers, it is possible to reduce the acidic notes and bring back the perception of creaminess.
In other situations, explains Druschitz, reaching your desired profile can come down to the type of acids used, “We can change the amount of acid or type of acid, because they each give off different notes. Some are fresher and might be less puckery. It also depends on what they are already using.”
Achieving Balance Going Forward
“These factors are paramount to your development because if you can’t get those things (fat, salt, acid) in balance it’s going to be hard to get the full benefit and impact of our flavors,” says Druschitz, stressing how the science of taste is never a one size fits all approach, but a balanced and customized approach for your unique project.
This is why Lantman believes working with a partner like Edlong is so invaluable, “It’s the years of experience our team has, and our exclusive focus on dairy that really sets us apart. It’s what truly makes us the experts of what tastes good.”