The Benefits of Wheat Protein

As more consumers choose to follow a meat-reduced or meat-free diet, new meat substitute launches are predicted to have a CAGR of +5.3% in Western Europe over the next five years[i]. According to Euromonitor International data, the entire meat substitute market is worth about £1.13 billion, and is expected to grow to £1.96 billion by 2023. With speculations that Covid-19 will accelerate the shift to meatless alternatives, there has never been a better time for manufacturers to expand their plant-based product portfolios. Here, Olivier Chevalier, Senior Product Manager of Functional Proteins at BENEO, discusses the rising popularity of wheat protein in plant-based alternatives and how the texture consistency challenges, historically associated with textured wheat protein, can be overcome.

The rise of wheat protein

Wheat protein is the number one plant protein used in new meat substitute launches[ii]. This is in part due to wheat’s reputation amongst consumers as a natural and healthy ingredient. It is also recognised as having a more neutral taste than other well-known plant-based proteins, which have been criticised for having an off-taste that needs to be masked with flavouring in food products.

Source: Mintel GNPD 2019

Texture consistency

Despite having the positive attributes of a neutral taste and a natural healthy image, textured wheat protein does however tend to have a reputation for being soft in texture after hydration. Providing wheat-based protein that consistently delivers a similar texture and structure to meat can be challenging. This is particularly difficult to achieve due to the varied nature of the raw ingredient and the narrow margin for such variables within the production process.

To overcome the challenges associated with maintaining the same high quality and texture time and time again, the team at BENEO developed a system that ensures that every batch of BeneoPro W-Tex textured wheat protein delivers the same high quality, chewable texture once it is hydrated. Key to the solution has been the use of the right raw materials, the correct configuration of the extruder, as well as the implementation of a production process system where raw materials are tested on pilot equipment. In addition, once processed a spatula compression test is carried out and the hydrated, extruded protein sample is compressed with the spatula to measure its integrity.

Traditionally, an analysis of the raw wheat material is done to assess its quality, however this still doesn’t show how well it will do when put through its paces in the production process. As well as attention to detail when testing the raw materials, the extruder configuration has been uniquely developed and extrusion parameters have been carefully defined and checked to ensure that the end product has a chewable texture that is as close to meat as possible. The only way to do this is to send samples through the process and test the end result. BENEO’s decision to use a pilot production facility in the laboratory now ensures the texture quality of every batch of BeneoPro W-Tex.

As wheat is a natural ingredient, it can vary in quality, depending on various factors, including amongst others, the growing conditions. This can impact the extrusion process result. To overcome this, the team at BENEO has created what they call a ‘production corridor’ – a set of tolerance measures that the process needs to stay within to ensure texture quality is maintained. If variations in the raw material cause measurements to move outside of this corridor, then parameters within the extrusion process are adjusted to ensure consistency.

The end result is that BeneoPro W-Tex has a unique alveolar structure[iii] that allows the development of meat-like juicy texture. It also takes only 15 minutes to obtain maximum hydration capacity, eradicating the need for long soaking and making it convenient for production. In combination with its good compaction ability, BeneoPro W-Tex can achieve excellent shaping in products, without the need for additional gums or artificial binders, key for the formulation of clean label recipes.

BENEO has developed a range of vegetarian recipe concepts for the wheat protein, from beef burgers imitation, nuggets and vegetable patties to Bolognese. All of these new recipe concepts have been well received during taste and texture testing. BeneoPro W-Tex taste trials were undertaken to gain consumer feedback on the neutrality of its taste and whether any vegetal ‘off-flavour’ could be discerned. Vegetarian imitation beef burgers containing the protein were created and tested on 88 consumers. More than 90% said that they were impressed with the burgers’ very neutral taste and no off-flavour was perceived. In addition, 87% found the burgers containing textured wheat protein close in consistency to beef burgers[iv].

With the growth potential offered by consumers reducing the amount of meat in their weekly diet increasing, food producers are looking for promising ingredients that allow for the development of meat-alternatives that taste as good as they look. Thanks to development work by ingredients manufacturers, such as BENEO, textured wheat protein offers a texture-stable, tasty meat-alternative solution that will meet their needs

[i] GlobalData 2019

[ii] Mintel GNPD 2019

[iii] A structure composed of many very small cavities more or less ordered, like honeycomb

[iv] Source: Data was collected from in total 88 people at several occasions since October 2019


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