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Unilever, IFF and WUR collaborate on plant-based meat flavour research


A new research project aims to improve the flavour and texture of plant-based meat alternatives by exploring protein-flavour interactions.

Plant-based burger

Plant proteins can create beany off-notes and lingering bitterness in plant-based meat alternatives. Manufacturers often mask these unfavorable attributes through a combination of flavours, but this can result in undesirable aroma characteristics.

In response to this longstanding challenge, IFF and Unilever are spearheading a comprehensive four-year research project, working alongside scientists from Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. The project's primary focus lies on exploring the ways flavours bind to protein molecules with the goal of recommending novel flavouring strategies that elevate the sensory experience of plant-based meat alternatives.

A consumer-centric approach

Drawing upon IFF's years of extensive research in protein purification and natural food flavouring, this project targets areas within flavour compositions that hold the greatest promise for success. Using advanced analytical methods, WUR will study the protein flavour interactions. Unilever's involvement ensures that the research remains guided by consumer preferences – cementing a consumer-centric approach throughout.

“Our mission is to understand and improve flavour quality in plant-based meat alternatives by unravelling the intricacies of protein interactions, to investigate flavour loss and elevate the overall flavour profile,” said Neil Da Costa, lead scientist, global product research, IFF. “This joint commitment aligns with our shared goal of improving consumer eating experiences and fostering positive change within the plant-based food industry.

Technology as key enabler

“Moving to a more plant-based diet is very important for our health and for the planet,” said Manfred Aben, nutrition and ice cream head of science and technology at Unilever. “Technology is a key enabler for us to create plant-based products that have the same great taste and texture as animal meat but have a lower environmental footprint. We always strive to improve our products and satisfy our consumers’ changing needs and preferences. This research partnership will enable us to understand and control how flavours work to create superior plant-based meat products.”

“Working together with companies helps translate the knowledge of Wageningen University & Research into practice and for companies to contribute their valuable practical experience for us to learn from,” said Hans-Gerd Janssen, part-time professor at the chair group Organic Chemistry of Wageningen University and scientist at Unilever. “Developing meat alternatives that are even tastier and healthier can drive the transition to more plant-based options.”

This partnership between Unilever, IFF and WUR underscores our commitment to transform the global food system through a sustainable plant-based diet by delivering products that are not only delicious but also accessible to the industry to globally advance the consumer journey to a balanced diet.

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