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Getting rid of off-flavors in plant-based meat substitutes

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International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) has joined forces with British multinational Unilever and Dutch university Wageningen University & Research (WUR) to address the widespread issue of off notes in plant-based products. Off notes, which are often described as an objectionable taste and/or odor, are a common problem in meat-free foods.

Off notes are caused by plant proteins, which can create a lingering aftertaste and bitterness in meat alternatives. To mitigate this, manufacturers often mask these unfavorable attributes with a combination of flavors, which unfortunately can result in undesirable aromas from the food.

The comprehensive four-year project will see researchers from IFF and Unilever working alongside scientists from WUR to explore ways in which flavors bind to protein molecules, aiming to recommend novel flavoring strategies to enhance the flavor of plant-based meat alternatives. Using advanced analytical methods, WUR scientists will study the protein flavor interactions, while Unilever will guide them on consumer preferences, maintaining a consumer-centric approach throughout.

The environmental impacts of the meat industry are significant. From deforestation for cattle grazing to methane emissions from livestock rearing, there are numerous studies suggesting that a plant-based diet can have positive impacts on both health and the planet. Thus, it is essential for food manufacturers to ensure that plant-based alternatives are appetizing to consumers.

“Moving to a more plant-based diet is very important for our health and for the planet,” said Manfred Aben, nutrition and ice cream head of science and technology at Unilever. “Technology is a key enabler for us to create plant-based products that have the same great taste and texture as animal meat but have a lower environmental footprint. We always strive to improve our products and satisfy our consumers’ changing needs and preferences. This research partnership will enable us to understand and control how flavors work to create superior plant-based meat products.”

Many manufacturers across the industry are working to improve the flavor of plant-based foods, aligning with evolving consumer preferences and sustainability goals.

“Developing meat alternatives that are even tastier and healthier can drive the transition to more plant-based options,” added Unilever’s Janssen.

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