While demand for plant proteins is greater than ever, consumers still have little tolerance for the flavor and texture challenges they may come with. This means bakers must work extra when formulating with these proteins to meet consumer expectations.  

“Beneo’s recent consumer survey shows that taste and texture are truly key to convincing flexitarians to buy plant-based alternatives,” said Steven Gumeny, product manager, rice ingredients and functional proteins, North America at Beneo “In fact, nearly one in two consumers are taking a pleasant taste and texture into account when shopping for plant-based alternatives for baked foods and sweets.” 

While wheat proteins have a more neutral flavor profile, some other plant proteins carry bitter, earthy and beany off notes and can leave an astringent aftertaste, Laurie Colin, senior technical business development manager, Blue Diamond’s Global Ingredients Division, pointed out.

These proteins also interact with the other ingredients in baked foods, which can result in altered or masked flavors.

“To ensure desired flavor and texture when using plant-based protein sources, formulators must be conscious of the source of the pulse protein that is used and include ingredients that complement the taste and functional properties of the protein source,” Ms. Colin said.  

This includes using protein blends that can help minimize unwanted flavor nuances. Thankfully, ingredient advancements have led to more plant proteins like pea, fava and chickpea that offer a neutral, clean-tasting profile, requiring fewer flavor maskers or mouthfeel enhancers. 

However, bringing in naturally derived flavors shouldn’t be overlooked, said Hanna Santoro, senior bakery scientist, ADM. For example, vanilla offers inherent mouthfeel properties that can deliver a perception of creaminess and sweetness that many plant proteins are missing. 

“Natural flavors can also keep bakery items current, appealing to those consumers hungry for treats with tropical fruits, global spices, botanical and green notes, and other trending flavor profiles,” she said. 

Water absorption is another challenge for bakers incorporating plant proteins. These proteins compete for moisture in a baked good, resulting in possible over- or under-absorption of water, which can impact a finished product’s volume, texture, shelf life and more, warned McKenna Mills, senior technical services specialist for bakery, Cargill. 

“However, with careful protein selection, it is possible to manage water absorption issues and create high-protein baked products that are nearly indistinguishable from their ‘normal’ counterparts,” she explained. “Using protein blends is often the key, countering high-absorbing, or binding, proteins with low-absorption, or plasticizing, proteins.”

Further complicating this is the fact that plant proteins from the same source may still absorb water differently. For example, pea flour, pea protein concentrate and pea protein isolate contain 50%, 80% and 90% protein respectively and, while all derived from peas, have different water absorption. 

“Adding to the challenge, even proteins from the same botanical source with the same protein content can have a different affinity to water due to how they are extracted and processed,” Ms. Mills said. 

The order in which ingredients are added is key to combatting these hydration challenges, as well as hydration time, she added. Doughs with a plant protein base may also need to sit a little longer than traditional ones. 

A high level of pulse or other plant protein sources in yeast-raised wheat products can also interfere with the gluten matrix, decreasing processing ability and overall product quality, including texture and volume, said Tanya Jeradechachai, vice president of ingredient solutions R&D at MGP Ingredients.

To balance this out, bakers can add vital wheat gluten or wheat protein isolates to improve structure. 

Many plant-based proteins are also considered incomplete proteins because they lack or have limited amounts of essential amino acids. This requires them to be paired with other protein sources like rice, wheat, almonds and soybean to achieve a complete protein profile. 

If not done properly, adding plant protein to a formulation can pose just as many challenges as benefits. To avoid this, bakers must fully understand their desired product attributes, as well as how each plant protein option will affect them. Those who do will capitalize on the growing popularity of these proteins and the BFY movement that only looks to grow for years to come.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Plant-Based Protein, click here.