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Respected Contributor
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Registered: ‎07-02-2015

How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

[ Edited ]

https://www.mooresvilletribune.com/news/trending/inside-the-little-known-world-of-flavorists-who-try...

 

This story is appearing in newspapers across the country.  Can't copy and paste it very well in its entirety, but here's some of it..

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CRANBURY, N.J. - Marie Wright dips four long strips of paper, the kind you'd sniff a perfume sample from Sephora, into bottles of clear liquid marked Methyl Cinnamate, Ethyl Butyrate, y-decalactone and Furaneol. She holds the four strips together and wafts them, fanlike, under her nose. Suddenly, the lab smells of strawberries.


Wright is the vice president and chief global flavorist for Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world's largest food processors and suppliers. She's a former perfume industry chemist who has created more than 1,000 individual flavors for major food and beverage companies, and she's now facing one of the biggest challenges of her career.


Consumers are seduced and beguiled by flavorists without even being aware of it. Flavorists are the people who tinker with nacho cheese dust, Hot Pockets and pumpkin spice lattes. They are the tastemakers, driving consumer trends and making food craveable.


Wright and the planet's 200 or so other flavorists are bringing their alchemy to plant-based meat. It's the biggest craze the food industry has seen in a long time, driven by concerns about climate change, animal welfare and human health. It is still dwarfed by the $49 billion beef industry; however, the Swiss investment firm UBS predicts growth of plant-based protein and meat alternatives will increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion by 2030.
 
Despite its swift ascent, plant-based meat is the antithesis of recent trends such as local and farm-to-table dining, representing an embrace of highly processed foods made palatable in a laboratory by technicians such as Wright.


"These are great proteins from a nutritional perspective, but plant-based presents some challenges with tastes that can be unpleasant," Wright says.


First, there is the masking of the vegetal "green" notes in pea protein and the "beany" notes in soy, often by adding other ingredients and chemicals.


"There isn't one magic bullet, not one molecule or extract. It tends to be common pantry items like salt, spices, molasses, honey," Wright says. Vanilla extract is often used for masking because it is known for how it binds to a protein, rendering its own distinctive taste undetectable.


"It sacrifices itself," she says.


She describes vegetal notes that are more about aromatics. The goal is not to remove these aromas, but to prevent them from being perceived.


"Smell and taste are closely linked in the appreciation of flavor but are independently triggered," she says. "Taste is composed of the taste sensations perceived in the mouth and odor compounds perceived by the receptors in the nose linked to the olfactory lobe."


Then comes the insertion of the mineral, musky, charry, "umami" flavors that we associate with meat.

Wright huddles with fellow flavorist Ken Kraut, who works only on the savory side. They swirl little plastic cups of clear liquid, sniffing and tasting. Too yeasty, they say. They want a little less soy and a bit more umami - that elusive, savory monosodium glutamate flavor. Mushrooms give that umami flavor, as does Japanese green tea. Meat's mineralized note can be mimicked by concentrated extracts of broccoli and spinach


They've got a deadline. A big client is coming in the following week to test blended veggie-chicken meatballs, a plant-based burger and a few other proprietary products. Everyone is launching a plant-based burger these days, and as quickly as possible.
"They want to do it in anywhere from six weeks to three months - there's an urgency, a panic," Wright says. "Usually, a product is a year to 18 months to complete."

 

Wright says an ordinary product - a snack bar or a protein drink - might cost a client from $10,000 to $200,000 to have ADM formulate a recipe, which the company can then produce in its own processing facilities. Plant-based meat is different.
"This whole area is expensive because it's fairly high-tech, with a lot of dollars involved in research," she says. "Something like this, you're talking $100,000 to $1 million."
There's a lot of heavy lifting that goes into making vegan sea urchins out of soy and vegetable oils or sausage links out of lupin beans, a yellow and occasionally bitter legume.

 

The world is agog at plant-based meats that taste uncannily like the real thing, but nutritionists warn that if companies increasingly rely on chemists to insert desirable flavors into food, consumers might temper their enthusiasm for this new raft of better-living-through-science processed foods.

 

"There are so many influences from all over the world. If you're going to hang your hat on a flavor for next year, you may be wrong," Wright says.


It's about reverse engineering, listening to clients' visions while tracking trends and predicting consumer fetishes and preoccupations.


"Consumers are driving trends. Trends only used to come from high-end restaurants. Now, a lot of trends are coming from street foods," she says. "The consumer has changed. They're saying, 'I'm not going to eat that, and I have a say.' "


She points to smaller food companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which have pushed food giants such as Cargill, Tyson Foods, Kellogg and Smithfield Foods into a headlong race to produce signature plant-based meats.


Before the day is over, Wright checks in with a flavorist working on an energy bar flavored with salted caramel, then with a team in the mint lab working on a gum that both cools and tingles. She tastes a nitro coffee, deciding whether it should be flavored with Madagascar or Ugandan vanilla - the former classic and beany, the latter sweeter with a hint of milk chocolate.


And about that burger. Nondisclosure agreements prevent her from naming the company behind this plant-based burger, but the meeting is a success, the company's team staying for two days to hash out the details.


"They liked aspects of it, and they also wanted some changes in the fat delivery. They wanted a bit more of that bloody, minerally note and more of that seared taste, as well as that melty quality you get with animal fat," Wright says.


"A few years ago, they didn't have to taste so fantastic, but now we can really replicate a meat product without meat," she says.


Clients often provide nutritional and price guidelines, with the ADM team working within constraints such as calorie counts or projected retail cost. Once the formulation has been approved, the client gets the recipe, frequently having it produced and packaged by a co-manufacturing facility. Wright and her group don't produce the finished, packaged product. They invent the formula.


With food technology and the culinary zeitgeist moving so swiftly, predicting what will resonate with consumers is tricky - even with Wright's expanding toolbox of ingredients and food technologies.


"It's a huge area of investment," Wright says. "If it doesn't taste delicious, people are not going to buy it."

 

Honored Contributor
Posts: 18,415
Registered: ‎11-25-2011

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

[ Edited ]

Bless your heart.

Chemical alternations in taste/smell is in alot of our food.

 

I know the popularity of Plant Based food is an easy target for

the naysayers to cherry-pick, but these chemicals are in 

many foods....even the meat the 'Eww-Plant-Burgers' 

people so covet.

 

And the term 'unpleasant' has different meanings for everyone.

For the processed PB burgers, it might be the smell.

For the meat-eaters, it might be the visual of the meat....

and, of course, the process of the kill...but that's a thread

no one wants to pull. No one wants to REALLY know

'how the sausage is made.'

 

Honored Contributor
Posts: 14,917
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

Perfectly healthy plant based diet will become unhealthy lab created food..

Honored Contributor
Posts: 18,415
Registered: ‎11-25-2011

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

[ Edited ]

@dex wrote:

Perfectly healthy plant based diet will become unhealthy lab created food..


You'd be surprised....those who were PB before, are avoiding

these processed foods...just like any processed foods.

 

It's kinda like saying to those who are meat-eaters that they

all eat McDonald's or Burger King hamburgers.
They don't.

The healthy basis of a PB diet will always be there...and we won't 

eat the processed stuff.  That's why a LF whole food PB diet is key. 

 

Junk food people will always eat junk food.

And it's the fat in these items which is causing the most destruction.

Honored Contributor
Posts: 13,034
Registered: ‎11-16-2014

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

I would rather eat a real hamburger once a year ..made at home with ground sirloin than a Frankenfood burger every week. All these foods made in some lab have no appeal for me.

 

 

Honored Contributor
Posts: 14,917
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

@sidsmom @You are right but I think a lot of people are thinking these are healthy choices because they are plant based.

Esteemed Contributor
Posts: 7,833
Registered: ‎03-15-2010

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

[ Edited ]

@novamc1 

 

This whole craze is a turn off to me, but that's what good about being able to make our own eating choices.

 

Thankfully, I never developed a taste or craving for processed foods. It all makes me queasy, thanks to a mother who cooked simple, healthy meals without really knowing much about nutrition.  

 

Chemicals, chemicals and more chemicals.  It's just a disgusting mix of, ultimately, unhealthy stuff.

 

The Whopper commercials are a channel changer for me.  

 

Not interested now or ever.

 

Honored Contributor
Posts: 18,415
Registered: ‎11-25-2011

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

[ Edited ]

@dex wrote:

@sidsmom @You are right but I think a lot of people are thinking these are healthy choices because they are plant based.


@dex 

You are so spot on!

Wonder why they think that?

 

These foods were for....

-transitioning to a PB lifestyle

-environmental benefit and

-ethical reasons.

 

Some might even argue a processed PB product is still

much, much, MUCH healthier than an unprocessed 

animal product/byproduct in the long run. I tend to lean into

that belief.  But we all know an 'unprocessed' animal food

isn't as clean as they believe.

Honored Contributor
Posts: 8,736
Registered: ‎02-19-2014

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory

I think it's great. If all the McDonalds burger eaters, for whom healthy eating is clearly not the biggest concern, converted to these burgers it would be great for animals and the environment.

 

If you eat any food from a grocery store with an ingredient list on the back--I guarantee you that product was initally created and tested in a food lab. A few of my relatives work/have worked in food sciences. And it really is a science as described in this article, complete with labs. That's just modern times.

When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
"Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Honored Contributor
Posts: 10,668
Registered: ‎03-09-2010

Re: How those plant-based burgers emerge from the laboratory


@sidsmom wrote:

@dex wrote:

Perfectly healthy plant based diet will become unhealthy lab created food..


You'd be surprised....those who were PB before, are avoiding

these processed foods...just like any processed foods.

 

It's kinda like saying to those who are meat-eaters that they

all eat McDonald's or Burger King hamburgers.
They don't.

The healthy basis of a PB diet will always be there...and we won't 

eat the processed stuff.  That's why a LF whole food PB diet is key. 

 

Junk food people will always eat junk food.

And it's the fat in these items which is causing the most destruction.


@sidsmom 

Correct me if I am stupid, but isn't this processing food?