The demand for refrigerated or frozen vegetarian, plant-based meat replacement products is increasing by the day. Consumers are looking for convenient alternatives for meat products, and plant-based proteins are becoming an important option. They can be supplied raw, partially cooked, fresh, or frozen. Cooking these products as part of the production process will allow more control of taste, texture, and appearance. Here are some thoughts on the subject from the food experts at JBT.
Why is it a good idea to precook plant-based protein?
The primary benefit of cooking your vegetarian product is the extended possibility to control the result. One of the keys to creating an appealing product is the visual appearance. Plant-based protein is often highly processed, with a pale, brownish, or artificial look as a consequence. When you prepare your product before selling it, you can add visual effects, such as bar marks, marinade, and other coatings, that will help your product look more appealing.
How will my plant-based product behave when cooked?
Plant-based protein will not automatically behave like meat. However, consumers are hoping to find equivalents that look and taste the same as meat. In recent years, Beyond Meat and other brands have developed vegan meat burgers that are delicious substitutes to regular beef. They aim for a finish as close as possible to meat burgers, enabling them to demand higher prices than less successful alternatives.
We often get in touch with customers who are processing, for example, vegan bacon substitutes. One common problem is that they focus on imitating meat bacon from raw to fried. However, the vegan bacon will not shrink and get crispy when fried like the original. Some products we experimented with in our Food Tech Center looked (and tasted) like a grilled car seat belt. To avoid creating an inadequate substitute, you can always ask the experts at JBT’s Food Technology Centers for advice. At our test centers, we help you examine how your vegan product will behave when cooked. This year, we have conducted as many tests on plant-based protein as on poultry, which usually is our most tested protein source. If you are interested, you can request a trial at our Food Technology Centers by filling in this form.
How will precook affect my product’s flavor?
Have you ever tasted a dry, crumbly vegetarian substitute? Unpleasant consistency is a common issue with processed protein. It is often caused by the consumer not cooking according to the instructions provided. To make preparation easier for the consumer and ensure better control on product quality you can prepare your product at your facility using the thermal heating process of our oven or fryer. With our Formcook contact- and combi cookers and Stein, Double D ovens and grills, you get effective alternatives for your food cooking process. The contact cooker seals the natural flavors inside your product. For granular, solid, or semi-viscous products, the combi cooker combines the advantages of contact cooking and steam cooking to provide the optimal temperature and color to your protein. The Stein and Double D ovens intense cooking offers more flexibility over a standard oven, and our grill units will give perfect searing and bar marking effects of the product surface.
We work with our customers at our Food Technology Centers to develop new, innovative ways to produce even better flavors and appearances. Currently, we are testing dry-frying on soya-based products. Dry-frying is an exciting method and technology for the plant-based protein segment, as it can be used as an alternative for deep frying. Dry-frying controls fat levels and allows the use of fat or oils not suitable for deep-frying, like margarine or olive oil. It gives complete control of oil absorption on breaded products and creates an appealing finish on uncoated products, similar to deep-fried products. So far, the results are excellent!
What are the benefits of combination cooking?
JBT can further enhance products by combination cooking, running a contact cooker precook before the oven step. This improves yields by bringing cook times down and thereby producing higher capacities in shorter lengths. As contact cooking accelerates the consecutive oven process, products are of better yield when cooked. Contact cooking a plant-based product first will quickly develop surface colors and flavors. Additionally, this precook step could seal surface marinades around the product to further enhance flavors and a more attractive visual appearance while still cooking it optimally.
Can I control how the customer will treat the product?
Lastly, one crucial factor that will influence the consumer experience of your product is how your customer will treat it. Does your vegetarian product require re-heating, additional seasoning, or any other final touch before being consumed? A pre-cooked refrigerated or frozen product will need some thawing or heating to taste delicious, but using a microwave, frying pan, or oven will affect the experience of the product – both in terms of flavor and mouthfeel. In our Food Tech Center, you can test every likely option to determine how the product will behave and add clear cooking guidelines to the packaging to avoid faulty treatment.
JBT’s cooking equipment range
Processing vegetarian products with great results demand high-quality machinery. JBT has a wide range of innovative cooking equipment that will help you succeed. If you have any questions regarding processing plant-based protein, feel free to get in touch with us!
Need help developing your product?
With the world’s largest database with application tests and more than 30 years of experience in processing plant-based protein, we know how to make the most out of your product in terms of taste, yield and consistency. The food experts at our Food Technology Centers help you develop your ideas or enhance existing ones. The tests can be conducted on our testing site in person or via live video link or as on-site demonstrations with our mobile lab equipment in your facility.