As consumers demand more and better plant-based alternatives to meat, the Danish biotech company Novozymes has released an environmentally friendly way of producing umami flavorings using enzymes rather than chemical methods.
Umami is the savory taste often associated with cooked meat. This flavor is triggered by an amino acid called glutamic acid, which is often used as a food additive in the form of the salt monosodium glutamate. Umami is difficult to mimic in plant-based meat alternatives, especially if the salt content needs to stay low.
The food industry has two ways to produce the umami flavor: yeast extract or hydrolyzed plant proteins. Yeast extract is an easy-to-use, natural product, however, many consumers don’t like the ‘yeasty’ off-taste. Hydrolyzed plant proteins, on the other hand, require chemical methods that use strong acids in harsh industrial conditions.
Novozymes, a Danish industrial enzymes manufacturer, has unveiled a third option: breaking down plant proteins using engineered enzymes.
“Wheat gluten, soybean meal, and pea protein are good protein feedstock. Incidentally, these protein sources are also the most widely used in meat analog production,” said Trine Høje Andersen, Business Development & Launch Manager at Novozymes.
“The advantage of the enzymatic process is that it is more natural and less hazardous” than chemical methods, she added. “And, according to the EU’s flavor regulation, it can form a base for the production of natural flavors.”
This enzymatic method to obtain umami flavor is part of a wider approach Novozymes has adopted towards improved animal food alternatives. “Novozymes has embarked on an ambitious strategy to develop better solutions by biology. We are striving for ways to improve texture and taste not only in meat analogs but also in dairy analogs and plant-based beverages,” Andersen noted.
Animal-free foods are becoming a more and more prevalent consumer choice because of their potential for allowing a healthier diet with a smaller environmental footprint. In addition, the biotech industry has a unique opportunity to contribute with new, improved, and environmentally friendly food and flavors.
Novozymes has also had a busy week with the €80M acquisition of PrecisionBiotics, an Irish company that is developing probiotics to improve gut health.
Kostas Vavitsas, PhD, is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Athens, Greece, and a freelance writer on biotech and synthetic biology topics. Follow him on Twitter @konvavitsas
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