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Plant power: Brabender eyes protein extrusion technology for a better future

Protein, soy and vegetarian-friendly meat substitutes have a promising future. Between August 2016 and July 2017, these trends showed the highest average volume changes in the food markets — still at a comparatively low level regarding value, but with the largest percentage increases. This presents a challenge for every company that wishes to involve its product development department in these markets of the future, according to Brabender.

Approximately 20 percent of the German population belongs to the group of so-called flexitarians, who forego meat for the most part but not always, and they opt for meat substitutes at a particularly high rate. For Brabender, this is exactly where protein texturing enters the equation: With wet texturing by high-humidity extrusion, a meat-like texture, an adequate bite and an oral sensation can be created that is appreciated by customers who are looking for meat substitutes as an alternative to animal-based foods.

Recently, Philipp Deiters, Brabender Food Extrusion Sales Manager, discussed the importance of food extrusion technology in today's food industry. "When it comes to texturing using lab-scale extrusion, the cooling matrix, which is a modular system for the production of vegetable-like textures with a meat-like structure, used in combination with laboratory extruders, is the ideal solution. It allows the development of flexible and state-of-the-art product textures made from a wide variety of raw materials, gluten or soya, but also from other legumes such as peas, lentils or lupines, as well as' Preparations of raw materials from vegetables or nuts'

Raw material mixtures with fibers, fat, or sugar are also possible. The range of applications includes the development of recipes, raw material analyses, lab-scale production of samples, and the optimization of production processes in the snack food and pasta sector.

This makes this application attractive for a variety of sectors. For example, in addition to forward-looking food companies with extrusion experience, this application is particularly attractive for manufacturers of meat substitutes, pet food, and vegetarian feed. The wet-textured proteins can be extruded, flavored, or even breaded in different geometries. Real products are available for sensory testing, texture analysis, or color value optimization during the product development process.

Brabender focuses on quality control with its rheology instruments and R&D for its extrusion portfolio, specifically for people who are looking for new raw material and are looking to trial new products.

“If you want to produce a textured vegetable protein product, you need to consider flavors, spices, special ingredients, binders, and often these further ingredients are produced by further suppliers, now these suppliers need to check how their product is being used by the producer, so they can buy a small unit to simulate what is going to happen regarding the ingredients and formulation,” he says.

For Deiters, it can be a challenging market to be in. He says there are two major areas of concern for consumers, price and taste. “Vegan and vegetarian trends are huge at the moment, and if a product doesn’t taste like a meat product and a consumer can get it cheaper elsewhere, then they will. The challenge for this technology and for the industry on pricing these solutions is to create this very good texture and taste which is very important, not only for meat substitutes but every food product,” he states.

“Even though something might be better for your health or the planet, if you do not enjoy eating it then the consumer won’t be making a repeat purchase. Ultimately, it has to be enjoyable, plant proteins are an important segment in the industry, and this type of technology needs to be at a high standard to allow this type of extrusion process,” says Deiters.

Brabender is hoping to expand on this technology in the future. “Extruding proteins has become much more important to people, as an industry we have to adapt the process because there is now a demand for these types of raw material,” he continues.

Deiters believes there is still a lot more that needs to be done: “It’s not easy to bring in completely new foods and technology to the industry. The majority of consumers want to eat what they have been eating their whole lives, but this has to change,” he claims. “In the future, there will be 9 billion people on this planet and countries if look at the consumption of meat in Europe and the US alone, then we will not have sufficient resources such as water and grains to feed all this livestock. There needs to be a turning point and I think with this type of technology that we offer, there is a huge market for textured proteins. As long as we can make then enjoyable to eat, then there will be a chance.”

According to Deiters, there is still a lot of unexplored potentials. “It’s not only about soy but maybe blends with wheat, soy and pea proteins, because there are a lot of functionalities in different proteins. Overall, I would say that they are sufficient plant proteins sources available globally and we have good opportunities for innovation. The grains and other plant proteins that go into feeding livestock could become available if we consumed less meat on the whole. Every region has to focus on the veg proteins or mixture of vegetable proteins which grow best within their region. There is not just one ‘vegetable’ solution, but due to the number of different proteins and the variety of their functionality, different solutions might be best for different markets,” he explains. “These solutions are helping to aid a sustainable future of the planet.”

Deiters also notes: “The world has enough agriculture area for the production of any vegetable foods, we need to learn how to deal with it in a more efficient way and with protein texturizing, it is a very efficient way to convert to the protein mass from the field to the fork.”

“There is a market to grow any textured proteins using our technology,” he concludes. With this technology, there is a good chance for everyone and should be working together for the benefit of the food industry.”

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