Processing technologies for continuous production of textured vegetable proteins

Rafael Alvarenga, Sales Engineer at Wenger Manufacturing, Inc. will be hosting an interesting roundtable on meat-free: “Looking at plant-based meat alternatives? How to kick-start your market entry” at the Virtual Exhibition Plant-Based Foods Value Chain Americas 2021, April 13-14 2021, 9.00 am- 5.30 pm CST (Chicago Time). And, since Wenger will be showcasing its systems designed to produce the full range of textured vegetable protein products during the exhibition, Rafael shares his views on this topic:

First off, what is considered textured vegetable proteins?

Textured Vegetable Proteins, a.k.a. TVP, are intermediate products derived from vegetable protein sources such as soy, pea, and wheat that serve as a base ingredient matrix for further product application/development. Traditionally within the food industry, soy proteins have been the leading ingredient in terms of consistent quality and supply availability throughout the value chain, therefore vastly utilized as the base protein for texturization. Also, for many decades the meat industry has used this base texture as a yield driver or meat extender, for animal meat products such as burgers, sausages, bologna, breaded chicken products, and many others that go into the retail market. That is due to the texturized ingredient’s ability to absorb and hold water, keeping the textural attributes once hydrated and blended with animal meat.

Recent years have seen a whole new market segment on the rise, the so-called plant-based meat analogs. Unlike meat extenders, these analogs have a purpose to mimic whole animal meat muscles and are solely made of plant ingredients, therefore animal-free products. The base for both meat analogs and extenders are texturized vegetable proteins, the final application will dictate through the product characteristics and how they are made to fit each specific application.

Which technologies are commercially available today for the production of textured vegetable proteins?

From a commercial feasibility standpoint, extrusion cooking has been the only continuous processing platform to obtain these texturized vegetable proteins for many decades now. It has proven to be a leading and viable technology on a global scale to obtain plant-based textures that will go to different markets as explained above. There are, however, emerging technologies such as the PowerHeater by the Danish company Source Technology – which is also part of the Wenger group. The PowerHeater technology relies more on thermal cooking rather than mechanical energy inputs in order to obtain moistened, somewhat soft plant-based textures. While there is some overlap in the capabilities of these technologies, each is able to provide unique final product attributes. Other technologies such as shear-cell processing and cultured products also exist, but there are still questions about whether or not they’ll ever become commercially viable technologies to sustain the future and increasing protein demand of the human population.

As far as products achieved via cooking extrusion, they can be broadly categorized as “wet” and “dry” textures. The processing techniques utilized in both cases are different and therefore the final results are different. The dry textures have been out there for several decades and with new and more functional plant proteins coming into play companies have found other applications for the dry textured ingredients beyond the meat extender segment – usually, plant-based meat products available to the market today that are in a burger, sausage, meatball in other words, reformed and shaped formats have a great chance of carrying dry textures as core ingredients within a set matrix of raw materials and processing behind to attain a final product. Wet textures, on the other hand, allow the food developer to explore whole muscle plant-based meat cuts, of both short and long fibrous textures.

Can you tell us what are these products made of?

Soy and Pea proteins (Flours, Concentrates, and Isolates) and wheat gluten are the main ingredients available and used. There are, however, emerging ingredients such as other pulses (beans, lentils, and chickpeas) that are bringing increasing variability, flexibility, and thus opportunities to this field for food companies to innovate and release better versions of their products yet.

Can you explain the essential steps needed in order for someone to enter this processing field?

One must understand two key points moving forward. The first point is the specific ingredients that are consistently available to her/his market region and secondly what the final product needs to look, taste, and feel like for the end-user. Beyond extrusion of textured vegetable proteins delivering intermediate, not final products, further processing is required, and depending upon your business model and your deliverables to the market, flavors, aromas, and other meat-like processing are also key parts for attaining a winning product. Ultimately, no matter whether it is a start-up company looking for a co-manufacturing partner, or if it is an established company that wishes to purchase and install its own dedicated processing line, it is important to connect with a vendor that is able to provide critical support in integrating the correct recipe and process technology to achieve the identified target product.


About the Speaker

Rafael Alvarenga has been working for over 7 years in the development of new markets for Wenger, the Food and Industrial Products division, being responsible for all of Latin America’s key regions. Graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from the Faculdade de Engenharia Industrial (FEI), Brazil, he focused his studies in the area of Economics Engineering with 1 year of improvements and studies at the Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), Germany, in 2012. He started at Wenger in 2014 managing project engineering at Wenger’s Brazil Manufacturing. Today he works out of Kansas City, Missouri – USA, and concentrates his activities on developing new extrusion and drying projects with customers in the food industry, seeking the highest possible client success and long-term relationships.


Wenger is Gold Partner for the Virtual Exhibition Plant-Based Foods Value Chain Americas, 13-14 April, 9.00 am to 5.30 pm CST – Chicago Time. Meet the Wenger team at their own booth and know more about their latest technologies!
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