Why Plant-Based Cheese Is A Struggle. And How To Overcome It!

One of the biggest challenges with which food developers struggle is cheese. The world loves cheese, and we’re eating more of it. In 2020, the number of new cheese launches on the market increased to meet demand by 11% globally over 2019, according to Mintel’s The Future of Cheese: 2021 report. Demand for plant-based cheese continues to grow, especially in the US market among younger generations. In fact, 59% of adults aged 25-34 live in a household that consumes dairy alternatives.

But replacing animal-based cheese with plant-based is notoriously difficult. In another recent study, only 26% of plant-based purchasers and 11% of non-purchasers felt the plant-based cheese version was better than the original.

“In 2020, the number of new cheese launches on the market increased to meet demand by 11% globally over 2019.”

Key Challenges in Plant-Based Cheese Production

Animal-based cheese is hard to replicate because of its complexity, said Julie Drainville, Sensory Manager, for Edlong. “You have different matrices that make up the base for a plant-based cheese. They play a big role in the texture, so you’re trying to balance getting the texture right while minimizing off-notes,” Drainville said. That is exactly where our nearly 300 plant-based flavors and over a century of dairy taste expertise become essential to creating authentic-tasting plant-based cheeses.

Cheddar cheese, for example, is made from milk. The culturing and ripening process of natural cheddar cheese breaks down protein and fat over time, imparting a rich, complex product, she explained. A plant-based cheese will not have the calcium or protein levels of traditional or dairy-based cheese, so when proteins, such as pea, rice, or soy are added, they will alter the product’s taste or functionality.

plant-based cheeses

Key challenges in plant-based cheese production include achieving the right cheese texture, cheese flavor, and melting properties. For instance, dairy-free cheese made with coconut oil or cashew often lacks the melty quality of traditional cheeses, making it harder to use in dishes like lasagna or grilled cheese.

That’s why manufacturers have to go back to make sure the end formula meets their quality expectations and any label claims they are trying to meet. “As formulations are created, it is crucial to get the correct ratio of essential ingredients to optimize your product based on the manufacturer’s targets,” Drainville added.

The Role of Sustainability in Plant-Based Cheese

Sustainability has become a significant concern for both food and beverage companies and consumers. The demand for sustainable practices affects various aspects of the supply chain, from sourcing ingredients to packaging and distribution.

Plant-based cheese sustainability is a key factor driving consumer interest. Traditional dairy cheese production has a significant environmental impact, including high greenhouse gas emissions and extensive use of water and land resources. In contrast, sustainable cheese production focuses on reducing these impacts through the use of plant-based ingredients and eco-friendly production methods.

Consumers are increasingly looking for products that align with their values, particularly in terms of environmental impact. This trend is evident in the rise of plant-based substitutes, which not only cater to dietary preferences but also reduce the carbon footprint associated with dairy products and meat.

The Evolution of Plant-Based Cheese

As the plant-based food industry evolves, it can be difficult for food manufacturers to stay current on developments. “Soy protein has been around for nearly 60 years. Manufacturers are used to working with it. But newer proteins—pea, oat, rice, protein blends, maybe algae or nut-based—present a new challenge, and you can’t follow the rules of the previous protein. Even something as basic as fats—the difference between coconut and palm oil—changes how it works in your mouth.” Working with a flavor company that stays on top of the latest plant-based cheese trends can help you stay ahead of the curve without needing to take time out of your own day to research trends.

With 29% of US cheese consumers saying that ‘bolder flavors’ are an important driver when choosing cheese, it is crucial for plant-based cheese producers to create products that have bold, natural, balanced, and authentic taste profiles as well as real-dairy mouthfeel and texture – without the dairy.

Future of Plant-Based Cheese

The future outlook of the plant-based cheese market is promising, with emerging trends and potential innovations shaping the industry. Advances in ingredient technology and formulation techniques are making it easier to create vegan cheese that rivals traditional dairy cheese in taste and texture.

Parmesan, mozzarella, and cream cheese made from plant-based ingredients are becoming more popular, offering a variety of options for consumers. Innovations such as the use of cashew and coconut oil are helping to create spreadable and cheesy flavors that satisfy even the most discerning palates.

In North America and beyond, the emphasis on food safety, sustainability, and convenience continues to shape the industry. From grocery stores to processors, every link in the supply chain is adapting to ensure that consumers have access to safe, sustainable, and delicious plant-based cheese products.

Ready to learn more about how to overcome plant-based cheese challenges in your product? Make sure to download our full Filling the Plant-Based Food Plate e-book and, when you’re ready, reach out to our Edlong’s experts to leverage their expertise in creating delicious plant-based products.


Topics: Cheese flavorsDairy-freePlant-BasedVegan
Resource Type: Article

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