Improving the sensory quality of plant-based meat alternatives

Published on
June 20, 2022

Although the flavour and mouth-feel of meat analogues is improving rapidly, many consumers still report they can’t compete with meat. Scientists from Wageningen University & Research are investigating how to improve the sensory quality of meat analogues. The research will deliver insights that allow the food industry to develop products that convince consumers to adopt a more plant-based diet.

Markus Stieger, Professor in Oral Food Processing
Markus Stieger, Professor in Oral Food Processing

The market for plant-based meat alternatives is rapidly expanding. Nevertheless, it remains difficult to convince flexitarians to exchange real meat for analogues on a more-frequent basis – an important step in establishing a substantial and sustained dietary shift towards plant-based foods. “Not every consumer appreciates the sensory quality of the meat analogues currently available on the market.

Some consumers complain, for example, about lack of juiciness and unfavourable flavour quality” explains Markus Stieger, Professor in Oral Food Processing at Wageningen University. “We are convinced there is room for improvement, and that simply measuring product properties is not sufficient to deliver the necessary understanding of the mechanisms driving the flavour and mouth-feel perception of meat analogues.” This is the goal of the public-private partnership Improving the Sensory Quality of Meat Analogues (ISQA) (2021-2025): to determine the relationships between the structure and physico-chemical properties of meat analogues and to reveal how the breakdown of the product structure during mastication drives flavour and mouth-feel perception.

First in the world

To the best of our knowledge, this consortium between Symrise, Nissin Foods, Starfield Food & Science Technology, AAK, Vivera, and Wageningen University & Research, is the first worldwide to investigate how the properties of meat analogues change in the mouth during chewing, combining in vitro and in vivo measurements with sensory tests. For example, what determines how flavour compounds are released during consumption and how do these compounds affect flavour perception?

To the next level and beyond

The project will deliver insights that allow the food industry to bring the sensory quality of meat analogues up to the next level. “We will generate
understanding of how product properties influence perception of the taste, texture and juiciness of meat analogues – crucial in improving their sensory qualities,” says Monique Vingerhoeds, senior scientist at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, and coordinator of the research. “And we’ll come up with scientifically-sound guidelines on how to improve the sensory quality of meat analogues.” This fundamental knowledge will be applied in model products to provide proof-of-principles for the most-effective strategies.

Steering flavour and texture

Vingerhoeds is looking forward to the initial results, expected end 2022: “If we want to sustain a long-term shift towards more plant-based diets, then meat analogues need to be made attractive to a wide range of consumers. I believe that, by the end of this project, we will have found new opportunities to do so.”