Tricking the taste buds: flavour makers rise to meaty challenge

At flavour maker Givaudan’s innovation centre near Zurich, veteran chef Sam Brunschweiler serves up a lamb shawarma dish that looks and tastes appropriately meaty but is made from pea protein.

The Swiss company and competitors such as International Flavors & Fragrances and Symrise are vying to create the tastiest plant-based meat alternatives in a market that is growing fast on the back of consumer concerns about health, sustainability and animal welfare.

“A pea tastes like a pea. You put it in a burger, it’s not exactly what you would expect,” Givaudan’s head of savoury flavours, Flavio Garofalo, told Reuters.

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Givaudan analyses how fat, proteins, sugars and water in meat produce different flavours when heated because “most of the flavour comes from the cooking”, Garofalo said.

Mimicking the conditions in a vessel with non-animal proteins, sugar and fat – and using less water for roasted and more for boiled flavours – allows specialists to re-create a meat taste without meat, he said, just as a strawberry flavour can be created from bananas and apples.

Stacy Pyett, who manages a protein programme at Wageningen University & Research, said flavour houses played a key role in creating tastier plant-based meat analogues.

Improving their nutritional profile, which typically has more salt but fewer vitamins and iron than meat, is also a challenge.

Pyett said research showed salt was easier to taste in a juicy sausage than in a dry one, an indication that enhancing juiciness in meat analogues might allow for reducing added salt.

Garofalo said Givaudan had created flavours that allowed cutting the salt content by 35-40% while keeping the taste.

The company has also developed a ‘fat encapsulation’ technology that preserves fat in plant-based burgers during cooking as in real meat. Normally with plant-based products, most of the fats melt and flow into the pan.

“Fat is present in meat in what we call fat cells. When the fat melts, it’s inside a little capsule that only breaks at a certain temperature,” Garofalo said.
The technology, which is awaiting a patent, would keep the fat inside the patty and make it juicier, allowing for a reduction in fat content of up to 75% and of calories by around 35%. — Reuters


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