Enhancement of Texture and Flavor in Plant-Based Cheese Through Age-Old Fermentation Techniques

by Klaus Müller
8 comments
Plant-Based Cheese Fermentation

Attribution: Department of Food Science

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen have recently demonstrated that the art of fermentation can be employed to produce environmentally sustainable cheeses made from plant-based ingredients that are palatable to consumers.

By utilizing fermentation processes, researchers are able to create plant-based cheeses that emulate the taste and texture of conventional dairy-based cheeses.

New findings from the University of Copenhagen highlight the effectiveness of fermentation in creating plant-based cheeses that are not only good for the environment but also appealing to the palate.

The typical Dane, who is quite fond of dairy, consumes nearly 30 kilograms of cheese each year. However, the escalating strain on Earth’s resources coupled with climate change necessitates a transition towards more plant-based food alternatives. Therefore, scientific investigation is underway to explore ways of using protein-dense plants like peas and beans to produce a new line of non-dairy cheeses, which closely resemble the sensory attributes of traditional dairy cheeses that have been consumed for millennia.

Though the market already offers various plant-based cheeses, the challenge lies in the different behavior of plant proteins compared to milk proteins in the cheese-making process. To address this issue, manufacturers have been adding starch or coconut oil to solidify these plant-based cheeses and including an assortment of flavorings to give them a cheese-like taste.

New research led by Carmen Masiá at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science has made strides in this area. Masiá successfully developed a plant-based cheese using yellow pea protein that has a solid texture and an enhanced aroma profile. She accomplished this through natural fermentation processes involving bacteria, the same methods that have been used in dairy-based cheese production for thousands of years.

“Fermentation serves as an extremely effective mechanism for developing both flavor and texture in plant-based cheeses. This study illustrates that bacterial cultures can quickly develop firmness in non-dairy cheeses while simultaneously reducing the characteristic bean-like aroma of yellow pea protein, which is the sole protein source used,” states Carmen Masiá.

Research Updates: Eight-Hour Fermentation Yields

Building on her previous work that identified yellow pea protein as a viable “protein base” for fermented plant-based cheese, Masiá evaluated 24 bacterial combinations sourced from microbial culture supplier Chr. Hansen. She found that all tested bacterial combinations effectively solidified the texture and diminished the ‘beaniness’ in the cheese samples.

“The overarching goal has been to use commercially available bacterial cultures suitable for plant-based raw materials to create a cheese-like product with appropriate texture and taste. Although some bacterial combinations were more effective than others, all succeeded in producing firm textures without requiring the addition of starch or coconut oil,” elaborates Masiá.

Challenges and Future Directions

Though considerable progress has been made, Masiá acknowledges that there are further challenges to overcome. Specifically, tailored bacterial cultures need to be developed to fine-tune the characteristics of the plant-based cheese. Additionally, just like traditional dairy cheeses, these plant-based alternatives may require a maturation period to fully develop their flavors.

Ultimately, the acceptability of these new-generation, fermented plant-based cheeses will be determined by consumer preference. Regardless of how nutritious or sustainable a food product may be, it must offer a satisfactory eating experience to gain market acceptance.

“It’s imperative to recognize that dairy cheese production has evolved over many years. Replicating that process using entirely different raw materials is not something that can be achieved overnight. Nevertheless, substantial strides are being made in the field, and it is hopeful that we will soon have non-dairy cheeses that meet consumer expectations in terms of taste,” concludes Masiá.

This research was executed in collaboration with Chr. Hansen, a bioscience company specializing in microbial ingredients for the food and pharmaceutical sectors, among others.

Understanding Fermentation:

Originating in China, fermentation is an ancient technique now used in a myriad of applications ranging from the production of beer, wine, and cheese to pharmaceuticals. The process involves the conversion of sugars in food to lactic acid, acetic acid, and carbon dioxide by natural lactic acid bacteria and enzymes, thereby acidifying the food and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.

Historical records indicate the first documented use of fermented cabbage in China’s oldest collection of poems, the Shi Jing (Book of the Odes), dating back to around 600 BC.

Source: “The Impact of Different Bacterial Blends on Texture and Flavour Development in Plant-Based Cheese” by Carmen Masiá, Raquel Fernández-Varela, Poul Erik Jensen, and Saeed Rahimi Yazdi, published on July 31, 2023, in Future Foods. DOI: 10.1016/j.fufo.2023.100250

This study was financially supported by Innovation Fund Denmark.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Plant-Based Cheese Fermentation

What is the main focus of the research conducted by the University of Copenhagen?

The primary focus of the research is to utilize fermentation techniques to develop plant-based cheeses that are environmentally sustainable and palatable to consumers. The aim is to emulate the taste and texture of traditional dairy-based cheeses using plant proteins, specifically yellow pea protein.

Who led the research at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science?

The research was led by Carmen Masiá at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science. She focused on developing plant-based cheese using yellow pea protein through natural fermentation processes involving bacteria.

What challenges do plant-based cheeses face in mimicking traditional dairy cheeses?

Plant-based cheeses face challenges in mimicking the texture and flavor of traditional dairy cheeses. One of the key differences is that plant proteins behave differently than milk proteins during the cheese-making process. To overcome this, manufacturers often add substances like starch or coconut oil to solidify the cheese, along with various flavorings to give it a cheese-like taste.

What solutions does the research offer to these challenges?

The research demonstrates that natural fermentation processes can be employed to develop a firm texture and improved aroma profile in plant-based cheeses. Specifically, bacterial cultures were found to effectively solidify the texture and diminish the ‘beaniness’ in plant-based cheese samples, without requiring the addition of starch or coconut oil.

What is the significance of fermentation in the development of plant-based cheeses?

Fermentation serves as an effective mechanism to develop both flavor and texture in plant-based cheeses. It enables bacterial cultures to quickly develop firmness in non-dairy cheeses while simultaneously reducing undesirable aromas. Fermentation is an age-old technique that has been effectively employed in traditional dairy cheese-making for thousands of years.

What bacterial cultures were tested in the research?

Carmen Masiá evaluated 24 bacterial combinations supplied by microbial culture supplier Chr. Hansen. These were tested to ascertain their effectiveness in solidifying the texture and improving the flavor profile of the plant-based cheeses made from yellow pea protein.

What is the next step in the development of plant-based cheeses according to this research?

The next step is to fine-tune the bacterial cultures for optimal cheese-like characteristics. Furthermore, the plant-based cheeses may require a maturation period to fully develop their flavors. Ultimately, consumer preference will be a key factor in determining the market acceptability of these plant-based cheeses.

Who funded the research?

The study was financially supported by Innovation Fund Denmark.

What are some applications of fermentation besides cheese-making?

Fermentation is an ancient technique with diverse applications, including the production of beer, wine, and pharmaceuticals. It involves the conversion of sugars in food to various acids and carbon dioxide, thereby preserving and flavoring the food.

What is the historical origin of fermentation?

Fermentation is believed to have originated in China. The first documented use of fermented cabbage dates back to China’s oldest collection of poems, the Shi Jing (Book of the Odes), which is approximately dated to 600 BC.

More about Plant-Based Cheese Fermentation

  • Fermentation Techniques in Food Science
  • University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science
  • Overview of Plant-Based Proteins
  • The Role of Bacteria in Cheese-Making
  • Environmental Impact of Dairy Products
  • Innovation Fund Denmark
  • Chr. Hansen: Supplier of Microbial Cultures
  • Historical Origins of Fermentation
  • Sustainable Food Systems and Climate Change
  • Consumer Preferences in Plant-Based Foods

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8 comments

Sarah Clark October 7, 2023 - 2:05 am

Does this mean my vegan friends will finally stop complaining about the cheese? Hope so. Excited to see how this turns out.

Reply
John Smith October 7, 2023 - 8:48 am

Wow, this is really groundbreaking stuff. I mean, who woulda thought we could actually get plant-based cheese to taste and feel like real cheese? Science, man!

Reply
Sophia Green October 7, 2023 - 10:27 am

Interesting! But I wonder how long it’ll take to get these cheeses to market. Sounds like there’s more work to be done, but its a start.

Reply
Linda Williams October 7, 2023 - 12:36 pm

This is good news for lactose-intolerant folks like me. Can’t wait to try a non-dairy cheese that actually tastes like cheese!

Reply
Emily Adams October 7, 2023 - 5:52 pm

thats amazing, I always wondered why plant-based cheese tastes kinda off. good to know there’s hope for better options in future.

Reply
Robert Miller October 7, 2023 - 5:59 pm

I gotta say, it’s about time. Dairy farming is affecting the climate, and we need sustainable options. This could be a game changer.

Reply
Mike Harris October 7, 2023 - 9:37 pm

So fermentation is the secret, huh? That’s cool. Just imagine all the other plant-based foods that could be improved with this kinda research.

Reply
Paul Johnson October 7, 2023 - 9:41 pm

Looks like the ancient techniques are the way to go. Who knew they had solutions to modern problems? Great article.

Reply

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