Despite the nutrition boost and functionality plant-based proteins bring to a formulation, they aren’t without some well-known challenges.

“A common issue facing formulators using plant protein ingredients is unsatisfactory taste and mouthfeel in finished products,” said Paula Labine, marketing director, baking, milling and starch, ADM. “We use high-quality, neutral-tasting plant proteins combined with our unparalleled portfolio of taste and texture solutions to help product developers create consumer-preferred products.”

ADM’s additions to its plant protein portfolio — hemp hearts, hemp powder and Arcon T textured pea proteins — have clean flavor profiles that address these challenges.

The off-flavor notes that can linger from some plant-based proteins, as well as the grittiness they can bring to a formulation, can turn away consumers from a finished product, regardless of the protein content.

Taste still reigns supreme, after all. Starting with a neutral flavored protein can go a long way to avoiding these issues.

“Puris has done a great job with plant genetics to create a clean flavor in its pea ingredients,” explained Melissa Machen, senior technical services specialist, plant protein, Cargill. “When you have a neutral-based system in a bread or cracker, it has a nice flavor profile, and it’s very adaptable with seasonings and flavors. It has nice consumer appeal.”

Masking agents and flavors can also help hide a beany aftertaste. Grittiness can also show up with some proteins, but smaller particle size in the final ingredient can help alleviate those texture issues.

[Related reading: Four sustainable substitutes for plant-based proteins]

Fortifying baked goods with plant protein is not unlike using a fine whole wheat or ancient grain flour, according to Jaclyn Shingara, director of product strategic management, plant-based nutrition, Glanbia Nutritionals. However, it’s important formulators understand how these ingredients act differently in a formula.

“Absorption properties will differ for protein sources, so you want to keep an eye on absorption,” she said. “For quick breads, cakes and cookies, plant-based protein can fit into the mix well as a substitute for a percentage of your pastry or cake flour. We recommend starting at 10% and analyzing results before moving forward.”

Wheat proteins are a natural fit for conventional baked goods as they complement the wheat flour that provides the base to any traditional bakery formulations. They also provide structure in the formulation, which addresses any mouthfeel and texture challenges.

“Wheat proteins are ideal because they provide a clean flavor profile,” said Brook Carson, vice-president of product development and marketing, Manildra Group USA. “The neutral flavor means that you can better control the flavor profile of the finished product rather than focusing on how to mask the flavor of the functional ingredients.”

Crackers, Plant-based protein

Almond protein is another clean-tasting protein that formulators can start with and not have to adjust for off notes. Powders can also be milled finely to create a smooth mouthfeel and prevent texture issues in finished products.

“Almond protein’s high-fiber and low-fat content contribute to a mild and balanced flavor profile that complements virtually any application and does not detract from established flavors in a formulation,” explained Laura Gerhard, director of strategy and marketing, Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division. “Within blends, almond protein can aid in diluting the earthy notes and textures contributed by other protein sources, reducing the need for masking agents and supporting a simpler label.”

Another challenge is keeping ingredient lists simple. Snacks and baked goods incorporating plant-based proteins often are positioned as better-for-you, and clean label is usually part of that. 

“The consumers who would gravitate to plant-based also tend to be the most label-conscious consumers,” said John Keaveney, vice president, food ingredients, Purefield. 

This requires limiting the use of masking agents and more complicated protein ingredients. Both of ADM’s Arcon T textured pea proteins help bakers and snack makers clean up their labels both from an allergen perspective and recognizable protein perspective.

[Related reading: When to use beans and lentils in baked foods]

Manildra’s GemPro wheat proteins also are label-friendly, being a recognizable plant base and providing the protein boost in a functional way.

“As various ingredient additions are used to enhance nutrition, wheat protein is ‘strong’ enough to maintain the desired texture without excessive influence,” Ms. Carson explained.

Minimal processing of these ingredients not only preserves nutrition and enhances functionality, but it also helps with labeling issues.

“One of the opportunities that a minimally processed functional plant-based ingredient offers is the option to put the simplest form of the material name on the label,” said Jon Stratford, sales and marketing manager, Natural Products Inc.

More consumers are looking for food fortified with plant-based proteins, and bakers may benefit not only nutritionally but functionally from these ingredients. The more consumers become well-versed in this vocabulary, the greater the opportunity for bakers to be creative with formulations.

“It’s definitely become more consumer acceptable as they become more familiar with the proteins out there and the categories that they can be used in,” Ms. Machen said. “Consumers are adapting to the plant-based eating lifestyle.”

As the portfolio of plant-based protein ingredients expands, bakers will have a wide variety of choices. The trick will be finding the right fit.

This article is an excerpt from the November 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on plant-based proteins, click here.