Food scientists at Dutch based NIZO are collaborating with the VION Food on a project aimed at developing new meat products with lower fat content through using natural protein-based ingredients derived from vegetable and animal origins as fat replacers.
The research is co-financed by the Dutch government back agency, the Food & Nutrition Delta.
However, experts at NIZO explained that replacing or reducing fats with proteins is not a simple matter, as fats play such an important functional role in foods with functionality in terms of taste, structure, mouth feel and stability, so any replacement proteins would have to assume all of these functions.
Speaking with FoodNavigator, Dr Fred van de Velde from the NIZO protein research centre, said that by understanding what fats do in a food system, alternative ingredients such as natural proteins can be matched for function and used to replace fat.
“If you want to replace fat in a food, you need to focus on each function separately. It’s not possible to come up with one ‘golden bullet’ which will replace all of fats’ functionalities,” said van de Velde, who leads the new project.
The NIZO expert explained that an important part of the project is the development of processes that give the protein-based ingredients the desired functionalities of fats.
“In general, fat weakens the structure of food products. Thus by taking out the fat, the texture becomes more tough and chewy, which is undesirable,” explained van de Velde. He added that generally protein also contributes to the texture of food by increasing the firmness of products and at high concentration proteins contribute to the chewiness.
“Thus replacing fat by proteins seems to be a contradiction as both fat reduction and protein enrichment contribute to the firmness and chewiness of the product. ... [But] this can be addressed by improving the functionality of the proteins in such a way that they weaken the structure instead of strengthening it,” he said.
Low fat demand
High consumption of fats globally is a major concern for public health and is known to contribute directly to the increase of ‘prosperity illnesses’ such as obesity, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Health conscious consumers take a great interest in food ingredients, and value products that are healthy or are seen to be making efforts to improve nutritional value. As this demand for healthy products grows, many food producers are being forced to develop new low-fat products.
Manufacturers, said van de Velde, should now be looking at their own products to “try to unravel what the functions of fat in that product are, and then try to come up with strategies to use other ingredients.”