Consumers have made it clear that they are actively seeking to increase plant protein consumption. While a myriad of reasons are driving the multibillion dollar plant-based trend – health, environment, economic – it’s clear the trend is permanent, and still growing at that. The greatest growth in this channel has been in products made with plant-derived protein, and within that category the growth in meat and dairy alternatives that simulate their animal-derived opposites has been meteoric.

PART 1: Market for Plant-Based Proteins Ignites

Where 2010 saw perhaps a dozen, viable players in the field of meat mimics, 2020 alone saw the launch of about twice that many brands. Moreover, there has been horizontal growth in meal occasions and types expanding beyond center-of-the-plate products to sit in for animal protein at dinner. The number of breakfast, lunch, and snack items that employ meat and cheese alternatives have been flooding supermarket shelves and appearing on restaurant menus.

The plant-protein paradigm shift could not have happened without the ingredient technology to deliver increasingly higher levels of accuracy in flavor and texture. In fact, a recent Symrise, NA research study showed that plant-burgers were the most consumed form of meat alternative, almost twice as much more than the second-most consumed form, tofu. The same study revealed that the majority of consumers expect the organoleptic aspects of meat alternatives to be like that of the alternatives’ animal-derived counterparts. Specifically, some two-thirds of consumers surveyed noted that they refused to sacrifice taste and texture – especially texture.

This is a key sign for product makers to know: a meat replacer must have the “bite” and chew of actual meat to succeed. The source, type, and format of a plant protein employed for a meat alternative needs to be accurate to the highest degree.

A BETTER ALTERNATIVE

Symrise has robust capabilities in making any meat alternative to parallel beef, chicken, and pork. The company also has technical mastery in making plant-based dairy, including milk, yogurts, and ice creams.

Symrise makes accuracy and success in meat alternatives happen through a carefully structured solution model that capitalizes on its considerable expertise and capabilities. Utilizing what the company calls a “competence tree,” the experts at Symrise focus on five branches of key competencies for creating sensory-correct plant protein products. The first branch involves the formation of a trained plant protein panel, raw material screening, market mapping for customers, and gap analysis to reach full competency in meeting the desired eating experiences.

The next branch examines currently advantaged products through a model system of construction. In this stage, significant R&D investment is devoted to building “best in class” model systems that not only display Symrise’s flavor and texture technologies, but also make them meaningful for the customer. Next, functional solutions are examined via screening of mouthfeel and texture solutions.

This leads into taste modulation, wherein any off notes in flavor, aroma, or texture are eliminated. Finally, the technological team applies research and science to attain validation of the entire process. Here, they guide the product through the newly trained panel, analytical chemistry, and validated demonstrations.

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BOTTOMS UP!

If the above looks like a “bottom up” approach to building a better animal protein alternative, that’s because it is. In creating authentic taste in meat alternatives, the first flavor build is the masking of any off notes. Symrise uses what they call the “Symlife integrated solutions” toolbox. Most plant proteins tend to contribute some level of bitterness. The challenge is that often, in masking the off notes, the meaty umami notes can end up falling out.

Symrise will mask off notes, then build umami back in, while subsequently building mouthfeel and juiciness. During this “rebuilding” stage the Symrise Nutrition group steps in to create a natural color system that replicates the animal-derived version of the product.

After addressing the base product, Symrise’s ingredient experts break out the full spectrum of tools to build up the more subtle, characteristic flavors and aromas familiar in real meat. The team has crafted complete flavor and texture portfolios for chicken, beef, onion, smoke, and value-added seasonings to deploy. Leveraging all of these allows the technicians to create the most authentic flavor systems possible for plant-based meat alternatives.

In developing a meat-mimicking system, Symrise provides a complete toolbox of solutions. They start with masking the unwanted off aroma and taste within the base, then build back the savory and juicy elements. From there, they provide a characteristic seasoning and top note. In addition, through Symrise Nutrition, they can also provide an authentic color solution. All of this can be rolled into a single drop solution for ease of use and to eliminate some supply chain inefficiencies during final production. For preferred taste, agility, and substantiated systems, Symrise can be your partner of choice in plant-based foods.

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PLAYING BY THE SCRIPT

Symrise’s flavor languages are based on its global communication tool, “Symscript.” Each term is associated with a single unique reference allowing for clear, precise, and streamlined communication.

MEATY BEEF – this describes the juicy/“bloody” character (actually heme) and cooked beefy/meaty notes of red meat.

ROASTED – browned notes caused by cooking in the oven or over a flame which commonly represent grilled and charred flavors.

CHEESE – this category also relates to umami sources, but speaks predominantly to mild cheese flavors that have a powdery cheese and buttery character.

MARINE – these flavor designations are those applied to green algae, seaweed, fish and crustacea.

SULFUROUS SAVORY – is used to describe the sulfurous character of cabbage, tomato and cooked vegetables.

VEGETABLE – flavor looks toward carrot and green bell pepper flavor profiles.

GREEN – is a flavor identity for evoking freshness found in fresh cut grass, and green vegetables such as leafy greens and peas.

ALLIACEOUS – refers to the pungent characteristic notes of freshly chopped onion, garlic, leek or chives, similar to sulfurous flavor notes but a separate category for those most distinct flavors.

YEAST SAVORY – also similar to the other umami flavors, this description is used to describe HVP Yeast, Meaty, and Vegetable notes.

FATTY – describes a gamut of flavors associated with the powerful flavor carrier that is lipids, ranging across fatty, fried, metallic, oily, and tallow subnotes.

MOULDY – although inclusive of the negative aspect of mouldy off notes, it also can incorporate mushroomy flavors that tilt toward meaty umami.

SPICY HOT – covers capsaicin and black pepper flavors causing slight heat or a burning effect in the mouth.

SPICY BROWN – which refers not only to the obvious notes of mustard but expands to include brown spice flavors, such as cumin.

CEREAL – applies to those flavor profiles that evoke the toasty and singular flavor of grains.

THE SYMRISE INNOVATION PROCESS

On the path to crafting an authentic recreation of an animal protein product, Symrise first opens its marketing, sensory, and consumer insights toolbox. This includes insight partners, trend reports, sensory tools, and other expertise. Once trends and insights are firmly established for the application, the team taps inspiration from an expansive chef network and other outside research. From there, it’s time to flow into ideation and concept creation with the cross-functional teams. Next, the technical teams take the ball and infuse Symrise’s innovation and technology to create commercial products and move through the development stages. This involves the “gold standard” process with the culinary team and flavorists. Lastly, the team validates the results with consumers and brings the fully developed concepts to life.

If you're interested in learning more about our Taste for Alternative Protein solutions, watch our on-demand webinar: Key Opportunities & How to Succeed in a Plant-based World. Click here to learn more!

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