“I want a sausage, made from plants, that tastes like a sausage”

This is the challenge that we face when formulating with plant proteins. As developers we are often asked to make the impossible happen. Plant proteins are finding new applications every month; however, we are limited only by the technologies available at the time. Here’s a few tips on how manage expectations on the limitations of plant proteins:

1. Set reasonable flavor expectations by working with flavors that complement each other, and do not distract from each other. Unless a product is truly tasteless, the protein will contribute something to the flavor profile. For example, pea protein tends to have a beany flavor that is often seen as a negative taste attribute. No one wants a beany watermelon drink. However, when you call something vanilla bean – the beany flavor is now part of sensory experience and less is needed to mask.

2. Don’t compare proteins by tasting in water alone, test drive it in a formula. The first thing I see developers do is mix the protein in cold water swish, taste, and make a judgement call. While this is good way to gain a sensory baseline, it doesn’t give you the whole picture. To me, this is the equivalent of taking a raw steak, licking it, and using that as an indicator of how it will taste seasoned and cooked. If you have a formula, test drive it in your formula. If you’re swapping out proteins, there will most certainly be a need to reduce sweeteners and maskers if you are using a more neutral product versus one that has more intense sensory attributes. Moreover, you can save costs by using non-functional proteins if your product has other ingredients such as gums and fibers that naturally improve mouthfeel or vice versa functional products can offer reductions.

3. Before jumping into expensive flavor masking solutions try some of these common clean ingredients – cinnamon, organic cane sugar, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder. Proteins have varying degrees of astringency followed by controlling negative taste attributes such as beany, cardboard, grassy notes. Cinnamon, sugar, vanilla, and cocoa can all be used (individual or combination there of) in very low percentages – 1% usually does the trick!

4. Use multiple sources if you plan on a large-scale launch. While a manufacturer may want you to use them 100% exclusively, it does no service to you when your product takes off nationally and the supplier cannot supply your 200% growth. I often advise customers to blend proteins so that both flavor profiles are captured, or to have different suppliers for different flavors. This gives you the flexibility to adjust their ratio and better options for supply continuity. Historically, customers reception to flavor changes on established products is negative leaving you with having to spin off new flavors or lines.