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Scientists create plant protein microgels which could replace fats in plant-based meat applications

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2 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
vegan burger patty with gherkins, served on big brown mushroom, red onions, lettuce and tomatoes

A team of scientists at the University of Leeds have developed plant protein microgels which can be used to give a juicier texture to plant-based meat.

The researchers created the ingredient by placing plant proteins, which are dry and rough in texture, in water and then heating them. This process changes the structure of the protein molecules and allows for a gel network which traps water around the plant proteins to develop.

Next, the gel network is homogenised and broken into a microgel made up of very small particles. When consumed, these particles release water which the researchers say has a similar mouthfeel to single cream. This gives the plant-based protein a lubricity and juicy quality.

Anwesha Sarkar, Professor of Colloids and Surfaces at University of Leeds, and one of the lead researchers of the project, said in a statement: “What we have done is converted the dry plant protein into a hydrated one, using the plant protein to form a spider-like web that holds the water around the plant protein. This gives the much-needed hydration and juicy feel in the mouth.

“Plant-based protein microgels can be created without having to use any added chemicals or agents using a technique that is widely available and currently used in the food industry. The key ingredient is water.”

One of the main barriers lying between many consumers and regular consumption of plant-based meats is the lack of lubricity.

The team hopes their latest findings will enable people to adopt more plant-based meats into their diet, which they note “is an inevitable need of the hour”, given the production of animal-derived foods accounts for over 50% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions.

The lubricant nature of the microgels means they could also replace fats in other food processing applications and create healthier products.

Ben Kew, doctoral student in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at University of Leeds, and another lead researcher in the study, added: “This is quite a remarkable finding. It is striking that without adding a drop of fat, the microgels resembles the lubricity of a 20% fat emulsion, which we are the first to report.

“Our experimental data supported by theoretical analyses also mean we could begin to use these plant protein microgels in foods where fat has to be removed to reformulate into healthier next generation plant protein food options.”


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