Consumers are increasingly demanding foods that are more ethical, sustainable and nutritious to improve the health of themselves and the planet. The food industry is currently undergoing a revolution, as both small and large companies pivot toward the creation of a new generation of plant-based products to meet this consumer demand.
In particular, there is an emphasis on the production of plant-based foods that mimic those that omnivores are familiar with, such as meat, fish, egg, milk, and their products. The main challenge in this area is to simulate the desirable appearance, texture, flavor, mouthfeel, and functionality of these products using ingredients that are isolated entirely from botanical sources, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids.
The molecular, chemical, and physical properties of plant-derived ingredients are usually very different from those of animal-derived ones. It is therefore critical to understand the fundamental properties of plant-derived ingredients and how they can be assembled into structures resembling those found in animal products.
This review article provides an overview of the current status of the scientific understanding of plant-based foods and highlights areas where further research is required. In particular, it focuses on the chemical, physical, and functional properties of plant-derived ingredients; the processing operations that can be used to convert these ingredients into food products; and, the science behind the formulation of vegan meat, fish, eggs, and milk alternatives.
CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS
The transformation to a more plant-based diet has been strongly encouraged by environmental and health experts to create a food supply that will feed the growing global population without causing irreparable damage to the planet.
As a result, an increasing number of consumers are changing their eating habits to adopt a more healthy, sustainable, and ethical plant-based diet, which has led to a rapid growth in plant-based foods. Nevertheless, there are still a number of hurdles that need to be overcome before a greater proportion of the population adopt this kind of diet:
- Consumer hurdles: There is a lack of understanding of consumer perceptions toward different kinds of plant-based foods and of the factors that impact their consumption. This knowledge is required to develop effective strategies to encourage consumers to try, accept, and adopt these products.
- Technological hurdles: There is a lack of high-quality plant-based ingredients with the required functional attributes, as well as a lack of suitable processing technologies to convert these ingredients into plant-based foods that consumers actually want to eat. This is particularly true for products with complex structural hierarchies such as plant-based alternatives to whole muscle meat, fish, and cheese.
- Commercialization hurdles: There is a lack of information available to both small and large companies about the commercial landscape of plant-based foods, including the affordability and relative costs of different ingredients and processes, regulatory frameworks, supply chain issues, and safety concerns. The availability of this knowledge would facilitate the entry of companies into the plant-based food market.
- Socio-economic hurdles: There is a lack of knowledge about the social, economic, health, and environmental impact of replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives in the human diet. This information would help governments draft policies that would foster the transition to a more healthy and sustainable diet, while promoting economic development, wealth creation and employment.
- Nutritional, safety, and health hurdles: There is also a lack of knowledge about the nutritional, safety, and health implications of switching from an omnivore diet to a fully plant-based one. In particular, more research is required on the impact of differences in protein digestion, absorption, amino acid profiles, and allergenicity on human health and wellbeing.
Progress in this area will therefore depend on taking an integrated multidisciplinary approach to overcome these hurdles, which will involve the work of agricultural scientists, food scientists, nutritionists, engineers, social scientists, psychologists, economists, and environmental scientists. Increased government, industry, and philanthropic funding in this area is needed to support this work and therefore facilitate the transition to a more sustainable and healthy plant-based diet.
Website Link (Journal by McClements et al.)