University of Queensland (UQ) engineers and food scientists have embarked on a culinary quest to make plant-based food tastier and more nutritious, as part of a three-year Australian Research Council project with Motif FoodWorks Inc., a US-based food technology company.
Attributes like taste, texture and smell combined are primary drivers for consumers when considering a meat-free option, according to UQ’s School of Chemical Engineering Professor Jason Stokes.
“It’s not just the taste, it has to be the texture as well, so the team wanted to understand the mechanics that occur during eating and stimulate them in a laboratory,” Stokes said.
“People want to continue to eat meat but supplement their diet with a plant-based protein for environmental and sustainable reasons. They’ve started to demand quite a bit from the product and want it to have the same characteristics as a normal meat experience, while also being healthy.”
Innovations around texture mechanics are the key to creating the best plant-based eating experience, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation’s (QAAFI) associate professor Heather Smyth said.
“Are there different ways of pre-treating plant protein in a way that makes it behave more meat-like in the first place, rather than just compensating burger formulations with various synthetic additives?” Smyth said.
“This might include fermenting them, extracting them differently or structurally modifying the plant-protein. Making the plant protein behave differently as an ingredient is really the space where we can have those breakthroughs, and already we’re seeing some interesting results.”
Motif FoodWorks is working with the UQ team to combine physics with the sensory aspects of eating.
“This project will unlock the secrets of food to help us design plant-based options that live up to the taste and texture expectations of consumers,” Motif FoodWorks head of Food Science Dr Stefan Baier said.
“We really have been leading this area of research for some time and that’s why companies like Motif and others have come to us in Australia, even though we’re a long way away from where they do their work.
“The landscape’s changed and people now recognise the challenges in food research – and they’re large challenges in terms of how we perceive food and how we understand food, and rationally design and engineer their microstructure.”