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Keshav Singh, Vice President & Business Head-Dairy, Laxmi Group

Importance of Ingredients in the Manufacture of Plant-based Alternative Food Keshav Singh, Vice President & Business Head-Dairy, Laxmi Group

Plant-based foods need to be sustainable, palatable, safe, nutritious, and affordable. Society is moving toward sustainability in all aspects of energy, foods or preserving life. Food sustainability is one of the driving factors for human's survival. A significant concern in the food value system is feeding of 10 billion population by 2050, which requires significant changes in the value chain for sustainability, minimizing the food waste and leading the world population towards more sustainable plant-based foods. The vision of sustainability is nutrition-rich food within limited resources to all humanity.

Paradigm changes are happening in the food industry as manufacturers create novelty plant-based products that are ethical and sustainable. In addition, they are meeting expectations of taste, convenience and affordability. In this write-up, we will briefly touch on the importance of various ingredients in the manufacture of plant-based foods and their importance to physicochemical and sensory attributes. The next generation of food requires meeting animal foods' composition, bioavailability, and nutrient profile.  

1.1 Protein

Protein is the most distinguishing element due to its functional properties imparted to food products in structuring, texturizing, emulsifying, foaming, moisture holding, and nutritional profile. In general, commercial plant-based protein ingredients come in three primary forms: flours concentrates and isolates. Typically, the protein concentration increases as one moves from flours to isolates, but the fraction of native proteins often decreases.

 One of the significant problems in the plant-based food area is the lack of consistent ingredients with the desired functional attributes. In addition, the native structure of the plant proteins during the isolation process is destroyed, and the individual globular proteins are to various extents, which reduces their water- solubility. The water-solubility of plant proteins is essential for many food applications since it is a prerequisite for good functional performance. The properties of plant protein depend upon the source of origin and are influenced by extraction and processing conditions used to convert them into food ingredients. Major issues with proteins are: 

1.1.1 Major issues of Uses of Protein

 

Issues

Brief Description of the matter 

Measure

Off flavours

Many plant proteins have undesirable aromas such as beany, earthy, grassy, musty, and woody

Off flavours need to be removed or masked

Mouthfeel

Many plant proteins have unpleasant mouthfeels.

 

Solubility

Some plant proteins are soluble in water (albumin), some are soluble in salt solutions (globulin), some are soluble in alcohol solutions (prolamins), and some are soluble in weak alkaline solutions (glutelin's).

In addition, solubility also depends upon whether the same is denatured or aggregated.

We need to control pH, ionic strength, temperature, and solvent conditions during isolation and purification.

Purity

Plant protein ingredients often contain impurities that alter their functional performances, such as dietary fibres, starches, other proteins, lipids, phenolic compounds, and minerals.

Essential to develop protein ingredients that only contain the constituents required to create the desired functionality.

Inconsistency

Plant protein ingredients often vary from batch to batch due to changes in their composition, denaturation state, aggregation state, or impurities.

Processing operations to isolate high-quality and consistent plant protein ingredients.

1.1 Carbohydrates

The molecular, physicochemical, and biological characteristics of plant carbohydrates differ greatly, affecting their functional effectiveness. They may differ in molar mass (low to high), structure (linear or branching), and charge at the molecular level, for example (anionic, neutral, or cationic). They can differ in terms of water solubility (soluble or insoluble), emulsification qualities (good or terrible), thickening power (low to high), gelling properties (gelling or non-gelling), and water-holding properties at the physicochemical and functional level (good or bad).

Their digestibility (rapid, slow, or none) and intestinal fermentability are different on a nutritional and physiological level (fermentable or non-fermentable). As a result, determining the qualitative features and nutritional profile of plant-based food products requires choosing a suitable carbohydrate source.

1.2 Lipids

The composition of the fatty acid profile in animal products plays a vital role in the functionality they impart to a product. Generally, the fatty acid is triacylglycerol which is three fatty acid molecules covalently attached to a glycerol molecule through ester bonds.

 The molecular characteristics of the fatty acids in a triacylglycerol determine lipids' physicochemical and functional properties. For example, the melting point of lipids tends to increase as the chain length of the fatty acids increases and the degree of unsaturation decreases. For this reason, many animal fats, which contain relatively high levels of long-chain saturated fatty acids, such as those found in milk fat or beef lard, tend to be solid-like at ambient temperature.

 The crystallization and melting properties of fats are critical for providing desirable properties to many animal-based foods, such as the spreadability of butter, the foaming of whipped cream, the meltability of cheese, and the texture of ice cream. Consequently, it is often important to mimic the crystallization properties of animal fats using plant-based alternatives. 

Plant-sourced fats contain relatively high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which tend to be fluid at room temperature. These fats can be made more solid by reducing their degree of unsaturation using hydrogenation processes, but this is often undesirable because it generates trans- or saturated fatty acids, linked to an increased risk of heart disease. 

For this reason, food manufacturers often choose to use natural sources of solid fat, such as coconut fat, because it has a relatively high solid fat content at ambient temperatures and can therefore provide solid or plastic characteristics.Some of the most common plant-based lipids used in the formulation of commercial plant-based foods include avocado oil, canola oil, cocoa butter, coconut oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil.

1.2.1 Other additives which impact the attributes

Additive

Key functionality

Colours and flavours

These additives are often needed to make plant-based products look and taste like the animal foods they are designed to simulate.

While Salts, sugars, spices, and herbs are generally added to plant-based foods to enhance their flavour profiles and more closely imitate those of animal origin.

Buffers

Buffering agents, such as phosphates, are used to control the pH of plant-based foods since this influences their physical attributes and shelf-life.

Cross-linking agents

Enzymes form covalent cross-links between plant protein molecules, thereby increasing the mechanical strength of the product, so it resembles animal-based structures.

Preservatives

Tocopherols, carotenoids, spices, and herbs can all be used as natural antioxidants, whereas essential oils, curcumin, and polyphenols can be used as natural antimicrobials

Micronutrients

 Manufacturers add plant-based food products with micronutrients that might lack in a vegetarian or vegan diet, such as vitamin D, w-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, or zinc.Plant-based foods may also be fortified with bioactive phytochemicals (nutraceuticals) to improve human health.

 

 

1.3 Key functionalities of ingredients 

 Function

Property

   Solubility

The solubility of proteins and polysaccharides from plant origin insolubility in oil, water, or other solvents is key for quality attributes of foods.

Water-insoluble proteins like zein have created structural features within plant-based meat products such as fibres or particulates. Similarly, water-insoluble polysaccharides like cellulose have been used as fat replacers, texture modifiers or bulking agents in processed foods.

In plant-based milk and analogues, it is essential to identify and understand any binding interactions between the fat droplets/oil bodies and other ingredients in the surrounding aqueous phase, as this can impact the overall system's stability.

Water Holding capacity

It is vital to control the ability of plant-based foods to retain their fluids during storage and food preparation, particularly for semi-solid foods like meat, egg and yoghurt as examples to have the character of the original food. To achieve this, Biopolymers are used and incorporated into plant-based foods.

Thickening & Gelling

Plant-based biopolymers (especially polysaccharides) are often used as functional ingredients in fluid or semi-solid plant-based food products to increase the viscosity and gelling characteristics by forming a porous 3Dnetwork of biopolymer chains. These are used to improve the textural or mouthfeel attributes.

Binders and extenders

Biopolymers are often added to plant-based food products as binders, which are ingredients whose purpose is to hold the product together, not collapse, while extenders are used to add body to the product.

Emulsification

Emulsifiers are ingredients that can adsorb to oil-water interfaces and stabilize droplets. They do this by forming a protective coating around the droplets that provides mechanical rigidity to prevent them from aggregating with each other. Generally, emulsifiers used are Proteins that plant originated (e.g., from pea, fava bean, lentil, legume, and soy), polysaccharides (e.g., modified starch and gum arabic), phospholipids (e.g., from soy or sunflower), and saponins (e.g., from quillaja or tea).

Emulsifiers are generally used to enhance the oil droplets' stability in emulsified plant-based foods, such as milk analogues, cream analogues, dressings, and sauces.

 

Foaming

Foaming agents are ingredients that can adsorb to air-water interfaces and facilitate the formation and stabilization of gas bubbles. Foaming agents are useful in plant-based whipped creams, ice cream, or egg analogues, which may contain gas bubbles to provide desirable textural and stability characteristics.

Melting/crystallization

High-melting plant-based lipids like coconut oil or cocoa butter are used for this purpose. It requires selecting an appropriate lipid source and controlling the cooling rate and temperatures. It has a significant role in determining the texture, stability, and mouthfeel.

Gastrointestinal Implication

Plant-based ingredients behave differently during digestion compared to animal-based ingredients.

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