How New Plant-Based Protein Innovations Stack Up to the Taste & Texture of Traditional Meats

When’s the last time you tried a plant-based protein product? If it was more than a couple months ago, it’s probably time to try it again. 

Plant-based protein innovation is happening so rapidly that there’s no need (or time) for a “new and improved” label. As more consumers begin to incorporate plant-based offerings into their diets, brands have more insights to make their products as appealing to the population’s palette as possible.

Yet, the sceptics still remain — the ones who still have a bad taste in their mouths from the old days of rock-hard veggie burgers and bland “wheat meat.” And they need more proof that modern alternatives will stack up to the flavorful foods they know and love.

“The plant-based products of long ago were unappealing and incomparable to animal proteins. That misconception stays with many people.”

– Salvador Oreamuno, R&D Director, CASA-Alegria Griffith Foods

A New Consumer Base Breeds New Innovations

Scientists have gotten closer than ever to mimicking the mouth-watering meats consumers crave. How does plant-based salmon, vegan duck, or smoked eggplant “bacon” sound? 

But despite the surge of new innovations in recent years, plant-based meat isn’t new. In the early 1900s, food innovators began experimenting with “meatless meats” made from nuts, grains, and soy. It wasn’t until the 2000s that leading chefs and processors began exploring new options, making the category trendy and elevating it to the tops of consumers’ minds. In North America, many processors have focused on perfecting the plant-based meat patty, while those in Central and South America have met growing demand with plant-based chicken and tuna. 

Yet, these products weren’t necessarily designed with vegans and vegetarians in mind. Instead, a whole new category of “flexitarians” has emerged, consisting of traditional meat-eaters who want to substitute some of their proteins with environmentally friendlier, plant-based options. 

A whole new category of “flexitarians” has emerged, consisting of
traditional meat-eaters who want to substitute some of their proteins with environmentally friendlier,
plant-based options. 

But flexitarians are no strangers to the smell, taste, and texture of real meat — and they demand analogues that are indistinguishable from their favorite proteins. The problem is that many of these plant-based alternatives were (and still are) being produced on equipment built for processing animal meat, leading to dry, unsavory products that lack texture. 

Thankfully, more and more processors are developing custom equipment that is made specifically for plant-based proteins and is adept at locking in moisture. Plus, new processing techniques such as high moisture extrusion allow for juicier meat with a more realistic, fibrous consistency. In this process, plant-based sources are transformed into a semi-solid continuous fluid using heat, shear, pressure, and moisture, producing an output with high moisture content ranging from 40-70%. 

In addition to innovative processing methods, processors are experimenting more with new ingredient substitutes like:

  • Mushrooms
  • Pulses
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Insects (primarily crickets)
  • Bean powders
  • Ancient grains
  • Lab-based or cultured meat

But willingness to consume these substitutes differs around the world. For consumers to accept these alternative protein sources may require better education of what they are supposed to taste like instead of masking them to match traditional meat flavors and textures. 

Griffith Foods is Helping Pioneer the Next Wave of Plant-Based Innovation

Griffith Foods is on the front lines of this industry, calling on 100 years of product development expertise to develop new flavors and technologies specifically for plant-based alternatives. We regularly conduct focus groups and analyze industry trends to better understand what consumers are looking for — even before they know it. 

Whether it’s plant-based mayo, vegan duck, or soy meatballs, you can expect a whole host of new meatless innovations from our partners. Supporting them through collaboration, consumer insights, and speed to market are just some of the ways we’re blending care and creativity to nourish the world. 

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