The vegetarian versions of dried meat snacks are ‘fully developed’

The market for vegetarian versions of dried meat snacks, such as jerky and dried sausages, is growing. A product like vegetarian salami, in particular, has tremendous potential. Food companies looking to enter this market can gain a competitive edge with a little help from TOP.

“The market for vegetarian versions of meat snacks is interesting,” says Wouter Franken of TOP. “Not much has happened yet. So, there are opportunities.” For this reason, TOP has developed several product concepts that could perform well in this market, such as a plant-based jerky.

“Traditional jerky is made from high-quality meat, marinated and then dried,” explains Franken. “Jerky has a firm and chewy texture. You really have to chew it well, and it has a lot of tensile strength.”

When designing a meatless jerky, TOP used, among other things, extruded plant-based protein as a starting point. “You can make vegan chicken or pork pieces based on this material,” explains Franken. “After extrusion, you just need to cut or tear it and season it.” Using the same material, TOP found it possible to make jerky. “We first treat it with an infusion liquid that not only gives the material taste, smell, and color but also allows a drying process that maintains the tough structure,” says Franken. The end result met all expectations.

Creating a full-fledged meatless version of a dried sausage turned out to be more challenging. “Many of the dried sausage products you can buy as a snack are a form of salami,” describes Franken. “They contain pieces of meat, fat, and herbs and have a non-edible casing, often made of cellulose. These salami sticks have a rich, creamy taste and also a firm, slightly chewy texture, but not as strong as jerky.”

Achieving that mouthfeel and texture was not easy. “In a vegan sausage, you can use methylcellulose for that, but that was not an option here,” says Franken. “Methylcellulose becomes firm when heated, but that firmness disappears when cooled. Since you eat a salami snack stick cold, that’s not an option.” Ultimately, TOP managed to create that firmness, but the product developers were only halfway there. “We hadn’t achieved the robust texture you expect from a dried sausage. We eventually managed to do that quite well by incorporating materials with a fibrous structure, such as plant-based proteins and dietary fibers, into our vegetarian dry sausage.”

The development of a vegetarian equivalent of the salami snack stick was no easy task, but the end result was a success. “The taste, the bite, and the mouthfeel of our concept surpasses those of the comparable products that, as far as we know, are currently on the market,” says Franken. “The nutritional value of these vegetarian analogs exceeds that of regular meat-based snacks. Our sausages contain less salt and less fat than regular sausages. Moreover, the fat they do contain is healthier than the fat in meat products. Our jerky also contains virtually no sugar, unlike traditional jerky. Both products developed by TOP are rich in dietary fibers but still contain a significant amount of protein, just like their meat-based counterparts.”

The vegetarian and vegan versions of TOP are unlikely to be cheaper than existing dried meat snacks. “At least not at the moment,” says Franken. “But if meat prices continue to rise as they are doing now, that could change.”

Food producers interested in giving these types of products a chance don’t have much more to do. “Our products are technically complete,” says Franken. “Of course, companies can still make adjustments in terms of taste through seasoning and possibly fermentation, but in principle, the concepts are suitable for large-scale industrial production. Especially for a producer who already has a production line that produces sausages in casing, our vegetarian dried sausage is an interesting option.”

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