The rise of plant-based eating has significantly impacted the food and beverage market over the last few years. According to recent reports, nearly two-thirds (65%) of consumers worldwide have increased their consumption of plant-based foods. While food and beverage manufacturers in all categories have been affected by this eating habit shift, one of the most significant is the global dairy alternatives market which is expected to reach nearly $40 billion in annual sales by 2025. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.50%.
Despite the popularity of plant proteins, however, consumers still demand great taste. Mintel reports that "taste is the top reason U.S. adults who eat plant-based proteins do so (52%), outranking concerns over diet (10%), animal protection (11%), the environment (13%) and even health (39%)." Unfortunately, in the eye of the consumer, healthier products, including plant-based products, often suffer from a lack of palatability and quality. A recent Food That Just Clicks report, revealed 71% of respondents felt the recent increase in health claims has had a negative impact on the quality of food and beverages.
While great taste is critical to attract a loyal plant-based consumer base, maintaining authentic and pleasing taste profiles in plant-based applications can be challenging. That's because richness, mouthfeel and authentic taste are often lost in dairy-free formulations. Plus, as online magazine Nutritional Outlook reports, "the unpleasant taste of proteins derived from plant sources is often hard to endure… Rice, pea and chia are all very popular sources of plant-derived proteins, but they all have unique, inherent off-tastes, bitter notes, and vegetative aftertastes."
Fortunately, these off-notes can be reduced or eliminated with the addition of dairy flavors, even ones that are completely dairy-free. A key factor is not only which flavors are used, but when they are used. While many manufacturers add dairy flavors (such as cheese-type or cream-type flavors) at the end of the production process, adding flavors at the beginning of the process often leads to better results. The early addition of dairy flavors can bring a plant-base to neutral, such as masking grassy or beany notes from chickpeas or fava beans, can add back freshness in shelf-stable products, and rebalance flavors. This provides the manufacturer an empty canvas in which to develop a full flavor profile.
Bring on the Layers
Adding dairy characteristics to plant-based products is at the core of the versatility of dairy flavors. One example of a plant-based product with dairy characteristics is a vegan edam-style cheese developed by Edlong, a company that has been developing dairy flavors since 1914. To develop this authentic-tasting but vegan cheese, Edlong used plant-based fat and functional ingredients like starches combined with water to build a base. Choosing the fat to best replicate the texture was crucial, as different fats have different tastes–for example, canola oil can have a fishy or mushroom-type taste. Functional ingredients can also impact the product's texture, meltability and shredding capabilities. For their edam-style cheese, Edlong layered a butter flavor with a Cheddar flavor to first mask the off-notes, and then add a rich buttery and creamy background that matched the Edam cheese profile.
Dairy Taste Authenticity
The plant-based revolution continues to expand, with U.S. retail sales alone higher than $4.5 billion a year. For food manufacturers looking to produce delicious, plant-based formulations dairy flavor companies, such as Edlong, are great resources. These companies have engaged in the research, and have the resources and expertise to help food and beverage manufacturers produce high-quality, better-tasting plant-based options to attract their share of this growing market.