July, 2022

Reformulation: plant-proteins and off-flavors removal

There are many trends and needs that cause companies to reformulate their products. These include, first of all meeting consumers’ desire to eat something tasty while remaining healthy. This merges with the need for products with clean label and sustainability features. Last but not least, the need to reformulate a product may arise to follow certain trends, such as consumers’ desire to eat fewer animal products and to switch to a vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian diet.

In addition to trends, other factors can drive companies to reformulate their products, such as the wish to reduce costs, ingredient sourcing issues, regulatory changes, product and shelf-life improvements, and the need to enhance product labeling.

According to the webinar “Understanding and removal of off-flavor across various plant protein ingredients” conducted by Fi Food Ingredients, reformulation strategies can include two distinctive approaches: overt reformulation, where the need is to improve one’s product to meet nutritional or legislative requirements, and stealth reformulation, where the need is to make minor changes that do not have an excessive impact on taste and texture.

However, reformulating a product is not easy, especially if doing so requires removing certain ingredients that affect the palatability of the product. For example, if in the reformulation process the taste or texture of a product changes, one may face resistance from the consumer, who might not accept the new product. In addition, the use of new ingredients for reformulation may lead to an increase in price, resulting in accepting lower margins or losing some consumers.

Reformulation with plant-based proteins

In particular, when switching from an animal-based product to a plant-based one, the choice of the right plant protein is essential to give the reformulated product the taste, flavor, texture, organoleptic properties and protein content of the traditional product.

Today, the market is filled with different plant proteins besides soybean, such as pea protein, fava bean protein, chickpea protein, mung bean protein, lentil protein, and many others, and this can confuse formulators, as each protein has its own taste, organoleptic, and functional characteristics, which can affect the palatability of the final product.

One of the main problems with plant proteins is the presence of off-flavor, which is an unpleasant taste that recalls a typical vegetable or legume flavor. However, there are techniques to remove these unpleasant flavors, as explained in the above webinar, where Ann Stijnman, a food scientist from NIZO, and Paulo de Boer, a food microbiologist scientist from Wageningen, highlighted useful strategies in reformulation using plant proteins.

Off-flavours causes and solutions

According to the webinar, the volatile compounds causing the off-flavors of plant proteins could be produced during the extraction process, such as in the acid protein precipitation. Therefore, optimizing the extraction process of plant proteins could improve their taste, and avoid the production of the volatile compounds. However, this is not always possible, as it may be difficult or impossible to modify certain steps in the extraction process; and that is why several methods have been studied to eliminate or reduce the presence of off-flavours.

One strategy is to reformulate the choice and balance among ingredients so as to mitigate the unpleasant taste given by off-flavours. For example, with plant proteins, it is recommended to use flavors that are complementary to the taste of the protein, preferring those that combine different tastes, and avoiding simple flavors, which could enhance the off-note.

Fermentation technologies can also be used both during the extraction process and during formulation to dramatically decrease off-flavors.

Finally, using masking agents may also be a strategy to reduce the presence of unpleasant tastes in plant proteins. However, the use of these agents could be problematic if the purpose of product reformulation is to reduce the list of ingredients on the label, as these agents must be declared.

Ultimately, the preservation of plant proteins is also important, as this can affect taste, leading to the creation or increase of off-flavors. Each formulator therefore has several methods available to reduce or remove off-flavours from their chosen plant protein, aiming to have an ingredient that is definitely protein, and with as neutral a taste as possible, so as to enhance its versatility in food products and facilitate the reformulation process of their product.

Although plant-based products are becoming increasingly popular even among consumers who do not embrace a vegan or vegetarian diet, there is still plenty of room for innovation and optimization of such products, especially in improving the organoleptic properties of plant proteins by identifying new strategies to remove off-flavors.