Finetuning ‘beany, earthy, and bitter’ off notes in plant-based meat alternatives

International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) is partnering with British multinational Unilever, and Dutch university Wageningen University & Research (WUR), to address the issue of off notes in plant-based products. Off notes, often described as an objectionable taste and/or odour, are a widespread problem in meat-free foods.

What causes off notes?

Off notes are caused by plant proteins, which can create a lingering after taste and bitterness in meat alternatives. Manufacturers often mask these unfavourable attributes with a combination of flavours, however this can in turn result in an undesirable aroma from the food.

“There are flavour challenges of some kind with pretty much all plant proteins used as meat alternatives.” says Michel Mellema, global innovation director at Re-Imagine Protein, IFF. “They can include beany off notes, earthy flavours, astringency and lingering bitterness.”

What will the project involve?

The comprehensive four-year project will see researchers from IFF and Unilever working alongside scientists from WUR. Their primary focus will be to explore the ways in which flavours bind to protein molecules, with the goal of recommending novel flavouring strategies to improve the flavour of plant-based meat alternatives.

The project will target areas within flavour compositions, which the researchers believe hold the greatest chance of success. Using advanced analytical methods, WUR scientists will study the protein flavour interactions, while Unilever’s will be able to guide them on consumer preferences, maintaining a consumer-centric approach throughout.