From vegan pourable yoghurt to vegan spreadable cheese

The research into plant-based dairy products within TOP BV has resulted in the development of a vegan pourable yoghurt. In the same project, the Wageningen-based technology company also achieved a plant-based airy custard and an equally entirely plant-based cream cheese.

“When we complete a project within TOP, we always add a single page to the final report in which we summarize what we have learned,” says product developer Justus Veenemans. “In this report, one page wasn’t enough. We required four pages. That already indicates how much this project has yielded.”

The project Veenemans refers to involved, among other things, the development of a vegan pourable yoghurt – but that pourable yoghurt was actually a spin-off of another type of plant-based yoghurt. “That was the plant-based version of Skyr,” explains Veenemans. “Our goal was to create a product with as much protein as possible, but with as few ingredients as possible.” Crucial to the development of that product was the choice of the right type of plant-based protein, which, through fermentation and acids, formed the correct, firm texture – without the need for thickeners. That thick and extremely protein-rich yoghurt was achieved.

Pourable Yoghurt
It sounds paradoxical, but to create a plant-based pourable yoghurt, Veenemans needed not fewer, but more ingredients. For the viscous and creamy texture, the team had to rely on the thickening properties of a number of plant-based dietary fibres. The end result was a pourable yoghurt with a texture identical to that of animal yoghurt, but with a taste that developed entirely through an optimized fermentation process. Artificial flavourings were conspicuously absent.
“In the end, we had a vegan plain yoghurt with a protein content of 5 percent,” says Veenemans. “That’s more protein than you find in a regular product.”

Airy Plant-Based Custard
In the ultimately successful quest for a complete plant-based pourable yoghurt, TOP discovered how, by using a specific type of starch, they could create an airy and completely plant-based custard. “Often, the texture becomes more mousse-like or remains liquid,” says Veenemans. “But this custard has the exact same thickness and mouthfeel as its regular counterpart.”

Plant-Based Spreadable cheese
Perhaps the most surprising discovery the team made was their ability to create a vegan spreadable cheese. “The initial intention was to see how thick we could make yoghurt. By manipulating the process parameters, we stumbled upon a plant-based spreadable cheese.”

Nutrition scientists consider spreadable cheese a product that should be consumed in moderation, as it contains relatively high amounts of salt and fat. Additionally, some consumers are not entirely at ease with the melting salts in regular spreadable cheese. All these concerns do not apply to the vegan counterpart of spreadable cheese that TOP created. “Our spreadable cheese is primarily made up of protein and dietary fibres,” says Veenemans. “For the texture, we didn’t need starch, salt, or melting salts.”

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