Animal-free ingredient company Motif FoodWorks is partnering with the University of Queensland (UQ) to test, modify and develop formulations which can improve the texture of plant-based meat products through its in vitro processing method.
Led by Motif’s food science lead Stefan Baier, the three-year initiative will see Motif food scientists partner with top academics in UQ’s food oral processing and sensory evaluation, including professor Jason Stokes, director of research at the School of Chemical Engineering and Dr Heather Smyth, a senior research fellow with the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.
According to Motif, texture represents one of the biggest sensory gaps between current plant-based meat and animal-derived products, as well as being one of the most significant challenges facing brands hoping to win over consumers.
“Positive textural experiences are critical to sensory enjoyment and consumer product choice,” said Smyth.
“As we understand more about the complexity of food texture and mouthfeel, we realize how important it is to take a fundamental approach in designing new food products.”
The partnership also represents the first time in vitro oral processing will be used in the meat category. This type of testing involves the tools developed in the lab and aims to analyse the physics involved in oral processing, so the end data is more objective.
Baier said when formulating new products, food scientists typically rely solely on in vivo testing, which is testing on humans and depends on “trained sensory panellists to tell them how well a new product simulates the traditional version”.
“This process can be expensive, time-consuming and often subjective, since perceptions can vary based on factors like a person’s saliva flow rate and composition,” said Baier.
Stokes has been pioneering the in vitro assessment of food oral processing over two decades, and along with Smyth, has developed new methods to assess mouthfeel qualities of foods, which link back to sensory perception.
The research and testing partnership between UQ and Motif will aim to drive “critical innovation” in Motif’s product pipeline of animal-free ingredients.