Mouthfeel and texture the big challenges for Asia’s plant-based industry

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As meatless diets grow in Asia, ingredient manufacturers are looking to innovate to fulfil the desired mouthfeel and texture in plant-based products.

Mouthfeel is crucial in delivering a food’s texture, adding to its sensory profile. Companies have been constantly innovating with new plant-based products around the world.

When it comes to plant-based alternatives to dairy and meat, texture and mouthfeel become even more important. People on meat-free diets as well as flexitarians are the target consumers for brands manufacturing these products, and nailing the right texture to replicate the original ingredient is paramount.

FoodNavigator reported how Asian companies are trying to innovate. In the alt-dairy industry, the right consistency for an ice cream is a major challenge for producers. Kamesh Ellajosyula, Olam Food Ingredients’s chief innovation officer, said: “The challenge with creating dairy-free ice cream is ensuring that consumers are not missing out on the creamy indulgent texture of an ice cream made with dairy​.”

To counter that, ingredients derived from cocoa, like cocoa butter, as well as nut butters can help add that creaminess to vegan ice creams.

The formation of icicles, or ice crystals, is another common issue for both texture and flavour. Using emulsifiers can help reduce icicles.

With plant-based milk, too, taste and texture can be a challenge. Ellajosyula said it’s difficult to achieve the right consistency with cocoa-based ingredients alone, and so the brand is working on a powder made from ingredients like nutmeg, cinnamon and saffron alongside cocoa.

Plant-based meat and fish are constantly growing areas too. Gilbert Verschelling, business development and innovation director at DSM, said replicating the fibrous muscle texture and a juice mouthfeel in meat products is a big challenge: “In meat products, the fat present is released in a different way to the oils and fats imparted by plant-based protein during consumption, which can make it difficult to achieve the authentic ‘chewiness’​.”

To improve the water-binding capacity of plant-based meat, brands often use hydrocolloids. Sodium reduction is also an obstacle, since salt plays a role in binding, preserving as well as enhancing the taste of alt-meat. This is why yeast extracts are a common inclusion in these products, as they can create that succulent mouthfeel without the addition of sodium.

Apart from that, flavour can also impact the mouthfeel. Adding seasonings like onion and garlic powders result in a crispier texture. Spice levels and blends are important too, as they create interesting sensations and aftertastes.

Anay Mridul
Anay Mridul
Anay is journalism graduate from City, University of London, he was a barista for three years, and never shuts up about coffee. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford Comma. Originally from India, he went vegan in 2020, after attempting (and failing) Veganuary. He believes being environmentally conscious is a basic responsibility, and veganism is the best thing you can do to battle climate change. He gets lost at Whole Foods sometimes.