Researchers make plant-based meat “more palatable”
University of Leeds researchers have developed a colloidal technique that “could give a juicy sensation without adding fat” to plant-based meat.
Hoping to encourage even more consumers to opt for plant-based meat, a team of researchers at the University of Leeds have developed a new colloidal technique that they claim “could give a juicy sensation without adding fat”.
The researchers state that there is a need for a “switch to plant-based diets to hit climate change targets” but the “biggest obstacle” for the uptake of plant-based alternatives to meat is their “very dry and astringent feel when they are eaten”.
With this in mind a team of scientists, led by Professor Anwesha Sarkar at the University of Leeds, claim to be “revolutionising” the sensation of plant proteins, by “transforming them from a substance that can be experienced as gloopy and dry to one that is juicy and fat like”.
Some may question what is needed to make this alteration. But the researchers have revealed that the only substance they are adding to the plant proteins is water.
To generate the texture change, the scientists created plant protein microgels, through a process called microgeletion.
“Plant proteins, which start off as dry with a rough texture, are placed in water and subjected to heating. This alters the structure of the protein molecules which come together to form an interconnected network or gel which traps water around the plant proteins,” explained the researchers.
Following this, the gel is homogenised, allowing the protein network to be broken down into a microgel made up of tiny particles that reportedly cannot be seen with the naked eye. Under pressure, as they would be when they are being eaten, the microgels ooze water, something the scientists say creates a lubricity akin to that of single cream.
“What we have done is converted the dry plant protein into a hydrated one, using the plant protein to form a spider-like web that holds the water around the plant protein. This gives the much-needed hydration and juicy feel in the mouth,” said Professor Sarkar.
“Plant-based protein microgels can be created without having to use any added chemicals or agents using a technique that is widely available and currently used in the food industry. The key ingredient is water,” continued Sarkar.
The research has been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications. Looking at the current market, the researchers have said that the dryness of plant proteins has been a “.key bottle neck for consumer acceptability”.
With their new discovery, the team hopes that consumer interest in plant-based proteins “will be revitalised” and will encouraging people to reduce their reliance on animal products for protein intake.
Noting that more than half of the 18 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents produced each year from food production comes from rearing and processing animal products, the researchers say the protein microgels “offer a unique platform to design the next generation of healthy, palatable and sustainable foods”.