Plant-forward food and its meaty truth

Plant-forward food and its meaty truth

Plant-forward food and its meaty truth
6 Jul 2023

Does vegan cheese melt like mozzarella? Can beetroot burgers beat the traditional lamb version? Could a mixture of mushrooms, tofu and other ingredients pack the same punch as a hearty steak?

Creating the next generation of plant-based food for the industry was never easy. Getting the flavor, functionality, nutrition and mouthfeel of each product has been the main challenge for scientists around the globe. When I completed my final-year project at the Nestlé R&D Center, I realized what it takes to make, market, and even sell vegetarian products.

Training under MasterChef Zaheer Khan taught me more than I could imagine! Two months into the project, I discovered that replicating an items appearance was simple, but nailing the texture and taste and nutritional value was extremely tough. As the science behind creating essential plant-based products can be complex, the small details matter the most. To find substitutes for each ingredient, I found that researchers focused on its physical, chemical and functional properties.

Thats why creating imitation meats has been tricky. Skeletal muscles, fat and connective tissues combine to form a complex hierarchical structure that vegetables cannot replicate. As a way to bind, stabilize and deliver the same juicy flavor, scientists combine a carefully-sourced soya and pea protein. Duplicating Italian mozzarella has been difficult too. Its distinct stringy-ness comes from the protein and casein content found in buffalo milk, an element that vegan produce just cant replace.

After Nestles R&D Center developed a product, it went to a panel for sensory evaluation. Here, the mouthfeel was broken down into specific characteristics and given points at every stage of the eating process. Some of my favorites included the powdered pasta sauce I used to develop a delicious veg au gratin recipe. The biryani mix was great for kebabs, while the coconut milk powder was versatile enough to complement any dessert. Creating such dishes only made it easier for me to take them to market and sell the products to businesses.

Working at the Center was a terrific learning experience! While ISH taught me the theoretical aspects of food science, Nestlé showed me how to apply it to practice. I learned to pair various ingredients, develop fresh recipes and understand the demands through market research. These steps allowed me to find the right audience, connect with the customers and brief them on creative ways to use the items. I made a list of over a hundred potential customers, pitched our products to them and recorded their feedback. Such an in-depth exercise fueled my interest in marketing and sales — a passion that I continue to pursue as a career after graduating.

By Kanishk Dawar, ISH Alumnus, Batch of 2022

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