No milk required for this Greek yoghurt

In earlier phases of the development of plant-based dairy analogues food technologists like Babet Waterink have mostly been working on products with a neutral flavour. “Still supermarkets sell many plant-based dairy analogue products that taste like the starting ingredients,” Waterink explains. “Take a sip of a random soy, oat or coconut milk and you will taste the starting ingredients. That in itself is not an issue, but some consumers prefer a plant-based product with a neutral flavour. These particular products we have recently developed at TOP bv.”

These milk analogue products can be processed to add a creamy mouthfeel or to make them foamable. “This has made it possible to make plant-based cappuccinos or lattes,” says Waterink. “However, up until recently it has been challenging to develop a plant-based yoghurt.”

Yoghurt has a fresh, acidic taste due to the fermentation process, in which microorganisms convert the available sugars and in the process produce acidic and aromatic compounds. This is not only essential for the characteristic yoghurt flavour, but for the yoghurt texture as well.

The thick mouthfeel and other textural characteristics of a conventional yoghurt arise from the formation of a three dimensional network by aggregating milk proteins. The molecular properties of plant proteins differ significantly from those of milk proteins, which makes it difficult to mimic the conventional yoghurt texture in a plant-based product. “Usually you have to resort to starches, hydrocolloids and other thickeners,” says Waterink. “The final product often has an unpleasant mouthfeel due to the gel-like or even slimy texture that these ingredients create.”

Waterink and her colleagues developed two methods to solve this issue. The first method requires less ingredients, the second method has lower production costs. Both methods are suitable to create a range of different mouthfeels and textures, which could result in a lighter pourable yoghurt as well as a fuller spoonable yoghurt.

Both methods were made possible by the discovery of a sourceable plant protein that has neutral sensory characteristics and is stable during processing. “The use of this protein, when combined with the right ingredients and production method, makes it possible to produce a plant-based yoghurt that comes close to the authentic dairy yoghurt,” says Waterink. “The product has the fresh, acidic flavour of yoghurt, a favourable nutritional composition and the characteristic yoghurt texture.”

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