Plant- and meat-based hybrids developed from sunflower side-streams: ‘Sensory properties are key to alt meat acceptance’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Sunflower press cake is what’s left over from the sunflower kernel after oil pressing. GettyImages/Akira Kaede
Sunflower press cake is what’s left over from the sunflower kernel after oil pressing. GettyImages/Akira Kaede

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The potential for sunflower press cakes to be upcycled into vegan meat alternatives and blended hybrid products is being investigated by a new EIT-Food funded project.

Sunflower press cake is what’s left over from the sunflower kernel after oil pressing.

As sunflower is the third largest oil seed source globally, a significant amount of sunflower cake is produced annually. According to 2017 data, 19m metric tons of sunflower cake was produced as a side stream from the oil extraction process.

For the most part, oil press cake is downcycled into livestock feed or discarded. However, sunflower press cake is a protein-rich ingredient with the potential, according to researchers, to be upcycled into food instead.

“Our food system is going through an unprecedented crisis and there is an even higher risk of global food insecurity compared to two to three years ago. Therefore, we must efficiently utilise existing plant-based side-streams as high-value protein ingredients for food,” ​according to Nesli Sözer, Research Professor at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Sözer is heading up a new EIT-Food funded research project – coined Taste2Meat – together with DSM, DIL German Institute of Food Technologies, University of Helsinki, and ABP Beef, aimed at utilising sunflower press-cakes as a protein ingredient for ‘sustainable’ and ‘tasty’ meat alternatives.

“The Taste2Meat project contributes to a zero-waste and sustainable food system by upcycling sunflower press-cake as a protein ingredient and designing both hybrid (meat and plant protein) and solely plant protein-based tasty meat alternatives for European consumers,” ​explained Sözer.

The researchers will use wet extrusion technology to create chicken-like or beef-like textures. When combined with pea and rapeseed proteins, the researchers believe plant-based meat alternatives can be developed with a desired organoleptic profile.

Appealing to flexitarian consumers is another focus of the project.

The trend for reducing meat consumption in favour of plant-based alternatives is a growing one. According to Euromonitor’s Health and Nutrition Survey, 42% of global consumers reported avoiding certain animal-based products in 2021.

“We are especially interested in the rising number of flexitarians, who integrate plant-based products in their diet but consume mainly meat products,” ​said Sözer.

For this audience, a hybrid solution – blending meat with plant-based protein – may well appeal. “Tasty meat alternatives and hybrids create new business opportunities and enable a smooth transition for people to increase the amount of plant-based ingredients in their diet.”

Another goal of the project is to ensure that if a sunflower cake protein-based product goes to market, consumers will be willing to try it. Consumer studies will be conducted to analyse European shoppers’ perceptions and attitudes towards meat alternatives.

“Consumer acceptance has a key role in the development of feasible business cases around meat alternatives,” ​said Sözer. “Sensory properties such as taste and meat-like texture are the most influential predictors of meat alternative acceptance.”

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