To produce plant-based cheeses that have the feel and taste of dairy cheese, scientists are turning to fermentation. In a new search resultscientists from the University of Copenhagen demonstrate the potential of fermentation to produce climate-friendly cheeses that people want to eat.
Nearly thirty kilos of cheese are consumed each year by the average dairy-loving Dane. But increasing pressure on Earth’s resources and climate change demand that our food system shift toward a more plant-based orientation. As a result, scientists are investigating how to turn protein-rich plants like peas and beans into a new generation of non-dairy cheeses with the same sensory properties as the dairy-based ones that humans have enjoyed for thousands of years.
Several plant-based cheeses are already on the market. The challenge is that plant proteins behave differently than milk proteins when you try to make cheese from them. To address this challenge, producers add starch or coconut oil to harden plant-based cheeses, as well as a range of flavorings to make them taste like cheese.
But it turns out that this can be achieved with the help of nature’s smallest creatures. As part of a new research result from the Department of Food Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, researcher Carmen Masiá has succeeded in developing plant-based cheeses made from yellow pea proteins with a firm texture and profile. improved aroma. It achieved this by using the same natural fermentation process with bacteria that we have used with milk-based cheeses for thousands of years.
“Fermentation is an incredibly powerful tool for developing flavor and texture in plant-based cheeses. In this study, we show that bacteria can be used to develop the firmness of non-dairy cheese in a very short time while reducing the “grain flavor. yellow pea protein, which is used as the main and only source of protein,” explains Masiá.
Fresh cheese after eight hours
This result builds on the results of research carried out last year by the same researcher, who discovered that yellow pea protein was a good “protein base” for making plant-based fermented cheeses. In the new result, the researcher examined twenty-four bacterial combinations made from bacterial cultures provided by the biotechnology company Chr. Hansen, where Masiá is completing her industrial doctorate.
“The aim of this study was to combine commercially available bacterial cultures, suitable for fermentation of a plant raw material, and test them in a pea protein matrix to develop both taste and texture “suitable for fermentation. a cheese-like product. And, although some bacterial combinations performed better than others, they all provided firm gels and reduced the taste of the samples,” explains the researcher.
To study the behavior of the bacterial combinations, the scientist inoculated them into a protein base based on yellow pea protein. After just eight hours of incubation, the result was a firm “cheese-like gel” reminiscent of a fresh, soft white cheese.
“All of the bacterial mixtures produced firm gels, meaning you can get a fermentation-induced gel without necessarily adding starch or coconut oil to the base. From an aromatic point of view, we had two objectives: to reduce the compounds that characterize the taste of the yolk. peas, and to produce compounds normally found in dairy cheese. Here we saw that some bacteria were more effective than others at producing certain volatile compounds, but they all worked very well at reducing taste, which is a very positive result. mixes the dairy aromatic notes acquired in different degrees,” explains Masiá.
Taste and feel are everything
The researcher emphasizes that there is still a way to go before achieving this plant-based cheese, but that research is on the right track. According to her, suitable bacterial compositions and cultures must be developed in order to obtain the optimal characteristics of those of the cheese. Additionally, plant-based cheese may need to mature over time to develop flavor and character, just as dairy-based cheeses do.
Finally, the new generation of fermented vegetable cheeses must be judged by consumers, so that the flavor is perfect. The ultimate goal is to make plant-based cheeses so delicious that people seek them out and buy them.
“The hardest part right now is that while many people would like to eat plant-based cheese, they are unhappy with its taste and mouthfeel. Ultimately, that means no no matter how sustainable, nutritious, etc. a food product is, people are not interested in buying it if it does not offer a good consumption experience,” explains Masiá, who adds:
“We must remember that dairy cheese production has been studied for many years, so it is not something we can imitate overnight with completely different raw materials. Nonetheless, many scientists and companies are making great strides in the field; I hope we get closer to making dairy-free cheeses that taste great in the next few years. We’re getting there.
The study was conducted in collaboration between the Department of Food Science and microbial ingredient supplier Chr. Hansen, a bioscience company that produces ingredients for, among others, the food and pharmaceutical industries.
What is fermentation:
Fermentation is an ancient technique originating from China. Today it is used to make beer, wine, cheese, pharmaceuticals and much more. Fermented foods are preserved by initiating a fermentation process during which natural lactic acid bacteria and enzymes are formed. This is done when microorganisms convert sugars in selected foods into lactic acid, acetic acid and carbon dioxide. This makes foods acidic and prevents the growth of putrefactive and disease-causing bacteria.
The first textual evidence of cabbage fermentation is found in China’s oldest collection of poems, Shi Jing (Book of Odes), which dates back to around 600 BC.
– This press release was originally published on the University of Copenhagen website