Vitamin B12 is an important part of a healthy diet, and a B12 deficiency, according to the UK’s National Health Service, can cause anaemia, the symptoms of which include tiredness, vision problems, muscle weakness and even psychological problems such as mild depression.
B12 is found in meat, eggs and dairy products, as well as fortified cereals and fortified nutritional yeast, according to the US’s National Institutes of Health. It is not exclusively found in animal products, but a large proportion is.
This poses a challenge for manufacturers of plant-based meat: can they ensure that their products provide the consumer with B12, and avoid accusations that a plant-based diet, because it has the potential to lack the nutrient, could lead some to experience the symptoms previously described?
B12 in plant-based meat
Some plant-based meat companies use B12 in their products. For example, JBS-owned Vivera, known for products such as plant-based shawarma kebab, adds the vitamin.
“We add the B12 in a pre-mix to our products,” Karin Lowik, marketing director at Vivera, told FoodNavigator. “In this way we can make sure it is evenly distributed throughout all the products we make.”
However, due to regulations which restrict overdosing, the company cannot match exactly the level of B12 that is present in the meat equivalent product.
“The regulation on adding of vitamins is very strict,” Lowik told us. “There are upper limits for addition (for all vitamins and minerals in fact), so overdosing in case of high consumption of our products is avoided.”
Some consumers also take B12 supplements, which could be an issue when combined with B12 in plant-based meat. “Especially, because many people who eat strictly vegan are supplementing themselves already with B12, you do not want to have a too high content in meat replacers. Therefore, we cannot match per product the meat equivalent and have set our target at 15% of the daily intake per 100g of our products.”
The Netherlands-headquartered Bobeldijk, which sells plant-based products such as vegan burgers and vegan fried fish fillets, also uses B12. “We use a vitamin premix with vitamin B12, iron and zinc and add this to our products in a set percentage of the portion, so consumers will get the right amount (15%) of their daily recommended intake,” Linda Klock, project manager at Bobeldijk, told FoodNavigator.
However, Bobeldijk’s B12 is slightly different. “Our mix contains cyanocobalamin,” Klock told us. “This is a different type than the one you will find in animal products. The natural forms of vitamin B12 found in food and drinks are methylcobalamin, hydroxycobalamin and S-adenosylcobalamin. Fortified foods or vitamin B12 supplements use hydroxycobalamin or cyanocobalamin.”
Why B12 is vital for vegetarians and vegans
Despite being producers of plant-based meat, both Vivera’s Lowik and Bobeldijk’s Klock were adamant about the importance of B12 to one’s diet.
“Most of the time vegetarians still eat some animal products that contain vitamin B12 like yoghurt, milk, cheese or eggs,” Klock told us. “Vegans do not, and are therefore recommended to take a vitamin B12 supplement or use products with added vitamin B12 to get enough. A vitamin B12 deficiency can have very unpleasant consequences.
“Vitamin B12 can also occur in plant products, for example in dried seaweed and algae,” she added. “But a large part of this is a variant that is not active and is not absorbed properly by the body.”
“This is a question for a doctor or dietician,” Vivera’s Lowik added, “but in short; if you do not get enough of any given vitamin or mineral, it will negatively impact your health.”