As many manufacturers are quickly discovering, traditional meat processing equipment is not ideal for plant-based meat products. This is because traditional meat processing is “subtractive” — the goal is to break apart a carcass — while plant-based products require an “additive” approach — ingredients must be combined.
In this way, making plant-based meat products is more like baking than it is like making patties, nuggets, and other items that alternative protein products seek to replicate. That’s why many manufacturers of plant-based meat products are using bakery equipment on their lines.
Here, we’ll look at a crucial step in the production of plant-based meat that’s significantly different from traditional meat processing: mixing.
Challenges of mixing plant-based meat “dough”
Most plant-based meat products are made in one of two ways, either via mix-and-form production (the most common) or using high-moisture extrusion. In both cases, the first step is mixing.
Here are some of the challenges associated with the mixing step of plant-based meat production:
- A pre-mix is often required. The proteins used in plant-based meat products often come in the form of dry powders that often must be pre-mixed with liquid before adding other ingredients.
- The moisture content and viscosity are highly variable. One of the biggest challenges of plant-based food production in general is that the moisture content and viscosity are different for every application. Just like vegetable-based pizza doughs can be anything from a liquid batter to a dense mixture, plant-based meats also come in a wide variety of viscosities, depending on the type of protein, the fiber content, and other factors. These factors must be taken into account when determining the ideal mixing process.
- The desired texture is variable, but the ingredients still need to be evenly mixed. The texture of the final product can be anything from chunky (e.g., for some patties and sausages) to smooth (e.g., for nuggets). The mixing process for chunky products needs to be gentler than that for smoother products, but the ingredients must still be well-blended to achieve a consistent, high-quality product.
- The ingredients can be temperature-sensitive. Like with most types of baking, the ingredients in plant-based products can be temperature-sensitive, so they need to be mixed without overheating.
- The ingredients can be expensive. A main barrier for plant-based products in the market is the fact that they’re more expensive than their traditional meat counterparts. That’s due, in part, to the fact that the ingredients are more expensive. To avoid wasting raw materials, ingredients need to be mixed well and transferred to the next step in the process without segregating.
Because of the variety in plant-based meat products, there’s no one right way to mix and process the dough. We recommend consulting with product development experts and testing your products on any equipment you’re considering before making a purchase.