Photo: Sanitarium Health Food Comp
Before formulators set out to design products marketed as vegetarian or vegan, they must realize some important facts. For starters, no regulations govern these terms. If a company wanted to label a can of chicken-noodle soup as vegetarian, it could. However, it is critical to understand the ins and outs of vegetarian and vegan foods when a company’s reputation is on the line with the large and growing segment of the population that seeks out animal-free foods.
Die-hard vegetarians refer to themselves as vegan. This group doesn’t consume any animal-derived foods. Vegans make food-product development challenging, making many ingredients forbidden in the vegan diet due to animal-based origins or exposure to animal-derived products. Regular vegetarians generally avoid all flesh foods (meat, poultry and seafood), but only sometimes their byproducts (eggs, milk and dairy products) and often allow for select ingredients derived from these products.
This growing segment of the population is quite label-savvy. They know that what might be considered vegetarian is not necessarily vegan.
Dialing down ingredients
While certain ingredients are obviously animal products (i.e., eggs, butter, etc.), numerous animal-derived ingredients are used in food manufacturing that the vegan knows about, but the food formulator may not think about. Some ingredients can originate from either an animal or plant source, so manufacturers should specify the source on the ingredient statement so that the consumer knows if the food complements their dietary platform. (See the chart “Vegetarian Formulating: Ingredients to Avoid or Specify Origin” for a more-complete list of ingredients.)
Some ingredients are traditionally listed in very ambiguous terms to preserve a product’s identity and uniqueness. For example, products with natural flavorings and flavors typically list these simply as “natural flavors” on the ingredient statement. According to Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 101, Part 22 “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
In other words, natural flavors can be pretty much anything approved for food use. It’s basically impossible to tell what is in natural flavors unless it’s specified on the label. A few vegetarian and vegan-oriented food manufacturing companies do this, but the overwhelming majority of food manufacturers do not.
Certain flavor suppliers can ensure their flavoring system is vegan. For example, Ottens Flavors, Philadelphia, markets liquid “beef” and “chicken” vegan flavors that are kosher pareve and non-GMO and simulate broth, fried, grilled, baked and roasted flavors. Ottens suggests using them in frozen and refrigerated entrées, salad dressings, sauces, soup, gravies, snacks and meat analogues.
For vegetarian products made with nonmeat protein—such as soy or wheat proteins—Comax Flavors, Melville, NY, says its vegetarian flavors are strong enough to stand up to highly absorbent vegetable proteins. The line includes a “chicken” flavor, which is available as a liquid or powder and is oil- and water-soluble, as well as a “ham” flavor, which comes in powder and liquid form. All flavors are kosher pareve.
A vegan yeast-extract blend from DSM Food Specialties USA Inc., Parsippany, NJ, has no added monosodium glutamate or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. It can be used to impart a beef flavor in bouillon, broth, sauces, vegetarian entrées and snacks.
Sugar is also ambiguous, since white sugar can be produced from either sugar cane or beets. Sugar cane processing but not beet sugar manufacture involves a whitening step often accomplished by filtering the sugar with activated bone charcoal. While no animal products remain in the sugar, some vegans choose to avoid refined sugar. Other sugars vegans find acceptable are maple and date sugars, and partially refined cane sugar (labeled as unrefined, unbleached, Turbinado, demerara or raw sugar).
Other nonsucrose sugars, including maltose, dextrose, glucose and fructose, are also fine. There is some debate in the vegan community as to whether honey is OK to consume; products from the beehive have traditionally been verboten.
Missing puzzle pieces
Designing a meatless entrée not only requires that the product deliver sufficient nutrients, but also that all products—including “natural flavors”—are completely animal-free.
Photo: Sanitarium Health Food Company
Balance is something vegetarians historically felt obligated to address at every meal, combining foods to make sure they were getting enough of the right protein at every meal. The idea was since plant foods are limited in one or more of the essential amino acids, a vegetarian should combine a food limited in a particular amino acid with one that has an abundance of that amino acid. This “complementing proteins” approach theoretically ensured adequate amounts of all essential amino were available to the body at the same time.
However, many nutrition scientists have recently concluded vegetarians need to simply consume enough calories to meet energy needs via a reasonable variety of foods over the course of the day. Of course, it helps when food formulators design complementing proteins into a finished product.
According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Chicago, “well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence.” Vegetarian diets offer a number of advantages, says the ADA, including lower levels of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher levels of fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants. As a result, the health benefits may include prevention of certain diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
But—and this is a “big but”— any restrictive diet can make it more difficult to get all the nutrients the body needs. A vegan diet eliminates sources of vitamin B12, found almost exclusively in animal products, including milk, eggs and cheese, and also eliminates milk products, which are good sources of calcium.
To ensure ADA’s “well-planned” diet, vegetarians and vegans must find alternate sources for B12 and calcium, as well as other nutrients, such as protein and iron, typically obtained through animal-based foods.
Sufficient vitamin B12 and calcium intake is often only possible through supplementation or fortified vegetarian foods. Though calcium is naturally present in a variety of foods, including dark-green vegetables, sesame seeds, almonds, red and white beans, soyfoods, dried figs, and blackstrap molasses, it is almost impossible to obtain enough calcium merely by consuming these foods alone. Supplementation or fortified foods are a critical part of any vegetarian diet.
Not meeting protein needs is also a concern, but they can be met if vegetarians consume adequate calories and eat a variety of plant foods, including good sources of protein such as soy and other legumes, nuts and seeds. Iron from plants, on the other hand, is less easily absorbed than iron in meat. This reduced bioavailability means iron intake for vegetarians should be greater than the recommended intake for nonvegetarians. Vegetarian food sources of iron include soyfoods like soybeans, tempeh and tofu, as well as legumes and fortified cereals. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption, so consuming a vitamin C–rich food with the vegetarian iron-containing food, or enhancing the iron-containing food with vitamin C, helps.
Hidden animal products
Identifying suitable foods for vegetarians became a bit easier when the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) went into effect on Jan. 1, 2006, as dairy and egg ingredients must be flagged on labels. Other tools some vegetarians find useful are the various kosher symbols available from verifying agencies. Keep in mind, much like vegetarian and vegan, the federal government does not regulate the terms kosher and pareve. Hence, consumers seek out kosher symbols issued by reputable agencies, such as the Orthodox Union, New York. Its “OU” symbol is the most widely used kosher symbol in the world.
“Both the ‘kosher dairy’ and the ‘kosher pareve’ symbols are useful tools for lacto-ovo vegetarians, as these symbols assure the consumer that no animal-derived ingredients are in the product formulation,” says Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, vice president, communications and marketing, Orthodox Union. “For example, cheese with a ‘kosher dairy’ symbol is not made with rennet.”
On the other hand, kosher yogurt can still contain gelatin. Kosher gelatin can be derived from fish bones, cows or insinglass (fish collagen); kosher gelatin substitutes are typically derived from agar, carrageenan and Irish moss. The latter three are suitable for vegans, just not in dairy-based yogurt.
“The kosher pareve symbol assures the consumer that the product contains no meat or dairy,” adds Safran. “However, this symbol is not useful for vegans, as kosher laws consider certain products of animals to be pareve. For example, eggs are pareve.”
The kosher pareve symbol is very useful for those avoiding dairy, since the term “nondairy,” as used on food labels, is not defined by FDA. Instead, state laws and requirements regulate use of these terms on food labels. One challenge lies with caseinate ingredients, typically sodium caseinate, which is derived from milk, yet classified as a GRAS food additive. Thus, when used in food, it is viewed as a food additive and not a dairy ingredient. Since FALCPA, sodium caseinate is recognized as a milk derivation, and is called out as an allergen on the ingredient statement. Still, the label descriptor “nondairy” can still be used on front panels.
Vegetarians (and the lactose intolerant) often find “nondairy” misleading and confusing. They must read the ingredient statement to be assured no dairy is present. “And only a kosher pareve classification guarantees that absolutely no dairy ingredients, no dairy residue and no contact with dairy equipment were used to prepare the food,” says Safran.
Vegetarian Formulating: Ingredients to Avoid or Specify Origin
|Ingredient||What It Is|
|Carmine (carmine, cochineal or carminic acid)||Insect-derived red coloring|
|Caseinate (casein)||Milk protein|
|Fatty acids (such as capric, myristic, palmatic and stearic acids)||From animals or synthetic|
|Gelatin||Protein from animal bones, cartilage, tendons and skin of animals|
|Glycerides (mono-, di- and tri-)||Glycerol backbone can come from animals or plants|
|Isinglass||A form of collagen from the air bladder of certain fish|
|Lactic acid||Acid formed by bacterial fermentation of milk sugar, lactose|
|Lanolin||Waxy fat from sheep’s wool|
|Lecithin||Phospholipids from animal tissues, plants, lentils and egg yolks|
|Lutein||Yellow coloring from marigolds or egg yolks|
|Natural flavorings||Can be from meat or animal products|
|Omega-3 fatty acids||Derived from algae, fish or plants|
|Pepsin||Enzyme from pig stomachs|
|Rennet||Coagulating enzyme obtained from an animal’s stomach, usually a calf; a comparable vegetarian enzyme is produced microbially|
|Substance from glands of bees|
Sodium stearoyl lactylate
|May be derived from cows, hogs, animal milk or vegetable and/or mineral sources|
|Vitamin A (A1, retinol)||Obtained from vegetables, egg yolks or fish liver oil|
|Vitamin B12||Produced by microorganisms and in all animal products; synthetic form (cyanocobalamin or cobalamin on labels) is vegan|
|Vitamin D (D2, D3)||D2 (ergocalciferol) comes from plants or yeast, while D3 (cholecalciferol) comes from fish-liver oils or lanolin|
Tastes like chicken?
Peanut satay sauce easily inhabits vegan territory to accent bowl-type applications that combine vegetables and protein-rich tofu.
Photo: Sanitarium Health Food Company
Ingredients aside, formulating vegetarian foods can include two philosophical approaches. The first is to simulate the perception of meat for consumers who appreciate meat’s savory sensory attributes, but desire a nonmeat choice. This is often accomplished with specially processed plant proteins. This approach is becoming increasingly common as meat-free, protein-type foods are not just for vegetarians any more. More non-vegetarians are cutting back on meat for health reasons, and retailers are now merchandising veggie foods as part of a healthy diet. The second approach is to produce a nutritious and satisfying meat-free food by combining fruits, vegetables and grains into a balanced food.
If your goals are to simulate the perception of meat, i.e., a meat analogue, it is necessary to work with one or more commercially available protein ingredients. “Various proteins are often found in meat analogues and in many combinations,” says Cheryl Borders, manager, soy foods applications, ADM, Decatur, IL. “These proteins can be strictly vegetarian, or be based on dairy or eggs, so it is important to determine up front if the product is intended for vegans, vegetarians or lacto-ovo vegetarians.
“All the characteristic attributes found in a meat product—texture, flavor, fat, color, etc.—must be added to the analogue by the product developer,” continues Borders. “After selecting the meat counterpart you want to simulate, you also have to identify the desired nutritional content (e.g., fat level, sodium content, etc.) early in the development process to reduce time-consuming reformulation later.”
Soy-protein ingredients were historically used to extend “real” meat—a way to make the grocery dollar go further when planning family meals. That has changed, as many consumers are seeking out soyfoods for their health benefits. Soybeans contain numerous components, including more than 40 different nutritional compounds. These components can be broken out to create various soy ingredients, whose selection should be based on optimizing product nutrition, functionality and cost.
“Soy proteins are often used to provide protein content, and their protein quality compares favorably to animal proteins while still being an economical protein source,” says Borders. In addition, soy proteins are the only proteins—animal or vegetable—approved for an FDA health claim. The language of the claim is: “Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. One serving of (name of food) provides (number) grams of soy protein.”
Whole grains have also proved to be “extremely useful in meat-analogue product development. In addition to providing both texture and flavor, they make important nutritional-value contributions, including helping lower caloric density while boosting fiber content,” says Elizabeth Arndt, manager, product development, ConAgra Food Ingredients— which includes ConAgra Mills, Gilroy Foods and Spicetec— Omaha, NE.
“Sustagrain® barley flour is useful in finer-textured products, including analogues of meatloaf, burger patties and nuggets, as the barley builds viscosity and has water-binding and -absorption properties,” Arndt says. The flake style is also useful in the same product types to provide some piece identity, yet maintain a more-tender texture. “On the flip side, precooked steel-cut and whole-kernel Sustagrain barley ingredients are beneficial where a more-hearty texture and appearance are desired,” she recommends. These barley flake and flour ingredients do not require prior treatment; however, steel-cut and whole kernel forms should be precooked, explains Arndt.
Borders adds: “Analogues simulating coarse-ground meat products will contain textured proteins, which are available in a variety of colors and particle sizes. The textured proteins provide a meatlike texture when hydrated, which contributes to mouthfeel. Functional proteins, such as soy concentrates and isolates, are often used in combination with the textured products and help to provide binding, as well as fat and moisture retention. On the other hand, an emulsified analogue, such as a veggie hot dog, would not require the use of textured proteins.”
Meatlike textured plant proteins (often called textured vegetable protein, or TVP®) are made by forming a dough from defatted vegetable flour with a high-nitrogen- solubility index, usually soy, with water in a screw-type extruder and heating the mixture with or without added steam. The dough is extruded through a die into various possible shapes, including chunks, flakes, granules and even “steakettes.” The extrusion process changes the structure of the protein, resulting in a fibrous, spongy matrix similar in texture to meat.
The extruded product is dried in an oven, rendering it shelf stable at ambient temperature. To use, the textured protein is rehydrated at a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of TVP to water, depending on the protein source.
Bulgur wheat rolled, cracked wheat has a nutty flavor and is prepared and used like TVP. It readily absorbs liquid and has a chewy texture, much like ground beef.
Wheat gluten also serves as a protein source, often in combination with soy protein. Commercial wheat gluten is made of dough that is rinsed to remove the starch. The amount of water contained in the gluten mass and by the amount of kneading modifies the texture. The bland, light-colored product offers formulators the option of coloring and flavoring it to mimic meat. It has a fibrous nature and meat-like structure. Unlike soy protein and barley, which better mimic ground beef, hydrated wheat gluten strings apart like chicken.
Another vegetable protein for meat analogues is mycoprotein, an edible fungi (Fusarium venenatum). Sold under the brand name of Quorn™ by Marlow Foods Ltd., North Yorkshire, England, the mycoprotein is grown under controlled fermentation so that it can be consistently harvested. It is best mixed with a binder, usually egg white or whey protein, which prevents it from use in vegan foods. It is readily formed into shapes like nuggets, tenders and cutlets. It has a meat-like bite and mild flavor, and its fibrous structure resembles chicken muscle tissue.
Other fungi, such as mushrooms, can substitute for meat. There are many mushroom varieties, some of which possess a meat-like texture and flavor. These can be chopped and readily combined with cooked grains and formed into a burger patty or loaf.
Historically, the potato has not been regarded as a commercially viable source of protein, since its protein content is only 1% to 2%. Likewise, the juice has low protein content. “Today’s starch production results in high energy and water consumption and a lot of waste material. A new separation process not only reduces energy and water consumption dramatically, it also changes a waste product into a promising vegetable protein,” said Rudy Rabbinge, professor, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands, at the 1st International Vegetable vs. Animal Protein Debate held in Amsterdam in May.
There, Solanic, a subsidiary of Avebe Group, Veendam, the Netherlands, debuted its breakthrough technology to extract high-performance proteins from potatoes. It allows for the isolation of soluble proteins from potatoes, covering the whole pH range. This dry potato ingredient has a protein content of 27%. “Furthermore, purified potato protein has good foaming, emulsifying and bio-functional properties,” said Professor Harry Gruppen, Wageningen University. The first commercial applications of Solanic’s potato-derived proteins are expected to be launched this autumn at Food Ingredients Europe in London. The Solae Company, St. Louis, holds a patent for the process of making a vegetable-base meat analogue, which may be used in a variety of vegetarian food products, such as patties and sausages. The process involves sequentially blending methylcellulose into a water-ice mix to form a cream, followed by blending in modified gluten containing vital wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate, oil, modified food starch and flavoring ingredients to form a flavored emulsion base. The flavored emulsion base may be stuffed into casings and cooked. The emulsion base, once cooked, forms a vegetable-based meat analogue with improved handling properties that greatly resembles processed meat products.
This patent is only one area where Solae has developed unique solutions for vegetarians,” says Charlie Ross, marketing director for North America at Solae. “Today we are developing ingredients that allow brands to deliver a whole-muscle-like vegetarian beef or steak cut.”
Putting it all together
There’s obviously more to mimicking meat than protein. “Isolated soy proteins and functional concentrates are available in a wide range of functionalities that can be used to assist with emulsification, moisture and fat retention, texture, and reducing cooking losses,” says Borders. Desired attributes in the finished product dictate the selection of the soy-protein ingredient.
Furthermore, depending on the vegetarian platform the marketer seeks, the formulation can contain dairy and egg protein ingredients, which assists considerably with producing a favorable product.
“Egg white is another protein that can be found in meat analogues and contributes to binding, as well as ‘bite’ during the eating experience, but it is not suitable for vegan applications,” says Borders.
“For vegan products, wheat gluten flour is generally used as the binder,” adds Arndt. “Textured wheat gluten also has some binding properties, but is particularly useful for providing a ‘meaty’ chew.”
The compositional range of a soy-based burger is 50% to 80% water, 10% to 25% textured vegetable proteins (textured soy flour, textured soy concentrate, textured protein combinations, etc.), 4% to 20% functional proteins (isolated soy proteins, functional soy concentrates, wheat gluten, egg whites, etc.), 3% to 10% flavor ingredients and/or spices, 0% to 15% fat and/ or oil, 1% to 5% binding agent, and 0% to 0.5% coloring agent, according to Borders. “The order of addition of ingredients can be important depending upon the type of analogue being produced,” she says. “If using an isolated soy protein or functional soy protein concentrate in a formulation for a veggie hot dog, for example, it is important to develop the functional properties of the soy proteins. Typically, this is accomplished by hydrating the protein with a sufficient amount of cold water and applying mechanical action. If a fat source is used in the formulation, it would be added to the hydrated protein with mechanical action to form an emulsion. This would be followed by the remaining ingredients.”
Other ingredients, such as gums and starches, may also require certain procedures to develop their functionality, Borders adds. “Some analogues may only require blending of the dry ingredients followed by the addition of water to prepare for forming or cooking,” she says. These binding ingredients can also help make the analogue’s texture more like real meat. “Carrageenan, cellulose gums and starches are often found in ingredient declarations,” she says. “Their water-holding abilities and gelling characteristics will affect the texture and mouthfeel of the finished pro duct. In addition, how and where they are added to the base matrix will influence processing procedures in production.”
As discussed, numerous natural flavors can mimic meat flavors, yet are considered vegan. “They can provide the characteristic meaty note to the analogue, as well as important background notes, such as fatty and roasted,” says Borders. “The various proteins that are found in the base matrix may have an inherent cereal note. Flavor suppliers have also developed masking agents to reduce these notes. In addition, the proteins have a tendency to bind with certain components in the flavor ingredients, and this can have a negative impact on the overall flavor profile. Once again, it is important for the product developer to consult the flavor supplier for flavor ingredients that will work in their base matrix and comply with any other requirements, such as kosher status.”
Vegetarians have traditionally turned to soy tofu and tempeh. Tofu is made by curdling soymilk, followed by pressing the moisture from the curds and forming them into blocks—much the same way cheese is made. A firm or extra-firm tofu can replace meat chunks in products, and marinating the tofu in savory flavors can further assist with mimicking meat.
Tempeh is made by fermenting cooked, dehulled soybeans with a fungus (Rhizopus oligosporus). This transforms the beans into a solid cake and is said to make nutrients more bio-available than in tofu. The product’s yeasty, nutty flavor and somewhat-stringy texture makes it more similar to chicken than tofu.
“Some vegetarians may have negative associations with foods that mimic the texture and flavor of meat,” Borders says. Therefore, another approach is to simply produce a nutritious and satisfying meat-free food through the selective combination of fruits, vegetables and grains.
“Vegetable ingredients provide texture, color, flavor and nutritional value in meat-substitute product applications, as well vegetarian entrées,” says Arndt. “Quality is essential to ensure maximum delivery of these important attributes.”
Vegetables are almost always purchased prepared (cleaned, washed, blanched and cut to size) and received either frozen or chilled. Even more convenient, controlled-moisture vegetable ingredients are a concentrated vegetable “that delivers increased flavor, color and nutrient impact compared to regular individually quick-frozen vegetables,” says Arndt. “The flavors provided by fire-roasted or grilled controlled-moisture vegetables are especially complementary to the savory flavor profiles often used in meat-substitute products. Typical usage levels are 20% to 25% of the ¼-in. to -in. vegetable pieces for the most-desirable flavor and visual appeal.
“A range of vegetables, including corn, carrots, red bell peppers, zucchini, onion, tomatoes and chiles, can be used singly and in combination to customize the flavor, look and texture of your product,” Arndt adds. “Dehydrated vegetable granules are an easy-to-use, highly concentrated form of vegetables that provide a more-subtle, yet attractive, appearance in meat-substitute applications.”
Eggs and dairy, particularly cheese, can be very useful in such lacto-ovo vegetarian formulations, as these ingredients not only provide protein, but assist in holding the vegetables and grains together. They also provide flavor and contribute to texture and mouthfeel. These products are often covered by a batter—liquid eggs are an option—coated with breadcrumbs to seal in the filling, keeping the interior moist and contained.
Ingredient options are plentiful when avoiding meat in product formulations. What’s key is to decide up front the target audience for your product, and then identify ingredients that complement that platform.
Donna Berry, president of Chicago-based Dairy & Food Communications, Inc., a network of professionals in business-to-business technical and trade communications, has been writing about product development and marketing for 13 years. Prior to that, she worked for Kraft Foods in the natural-cheese division. She has a B.S. in Food Science from the University of Illinois in Urbana- Champaign. She can be reached at email@example.com.