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Unlocking the Vegan Pantry: Most Desired Traits in Plant-Based Products

Publishes on
08 January 2024
VFA Blog
Alex Fernandes
The vegan food market has seen unprecedented growth in recent years. As more consumers turn towards plant-based diets, understanding what they value most in vegan products becomes crucial for businesses. This article delves into the product characteristics most valued in the vegan food market.

The Importance of Taste in Vegan Foods: The Role of Umami

Taste is undeniably a crucial factor when it comes to food selection, and this is no different for vegan foods. The success of vegan products in the market largely depends on their ability to mimic the taste and texture of their non-vegan counterparts.

One of the key taste components that vegan food manufacturers aim to replicate is umami, often described as the fifth basic taste after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami, a Japanese word meaning "pleasant savory taste," is often associated with a rich and satisfying flavor profile that is commonly found in meat and other animal-based products.

Umami is primarily imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides such as inosinate and guanylate. While these compounds are abundant in meat, they are also present in various plant-based sources. Certain vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes, as well as fermented foods like soy sauce and miso, are rich in umami compounds.

By incorporating these umami-rich ingredients, vegan food manufacturers can enhance the flavor profile of their products, making them more appealing to both dedicated vegans and those who are transitioning to a plant-based diet. This strategy can also make vegan products more acceptable to the general population, thereby expanding their market reach.

In addition to using natural umami-rich ingredients, food scientists are also exploring the use of umami-enhancing additives derived from plant sources. These efforts are part of the broader goal to improve the taste and overall sensory appeal of vegan foods, which is critical for the continued growth and success of the vegan food industry.

In conclusion, the importance of taste in vegan foods cannot be overstated. As the vegan food market continues to grow, the role of umami in enhancing the flavor profile of vegan products will undoubtedly become increasingly significant.

Here are some vegan ingredients that are rich in umami flavor according to The Woks of Life:

cogumelosMushrooms: Shiitake, white button, cremini, oyster, and king oyster mushrooms are all excellent sources of umami. Dried mushrooms, in particular, have an intensified flavor.

Vegetarian/Vegan Oyster Sauce: This sauce is made from mushrooms and can enhance the flavor of any stir-fry or sauce.

Vinegar: A small amount of vinegar can bring out the umami elements of other ingredients in a dish.

Sugar: Sugar can help bring out savory flavors in a dish.

Fermented Soybean/Broad Bean: Fermented soybean sauces and condiments, such as soy sauce, fermented black beans, fermented tofu, and various fermented soybean pastes, can add umami to your cooking.

Fermented and Pickled Ingredients: These can add umami to dishes.

Roasting Vegetables: Roasting vegetables before adding them to a recipe can also add umami.

Seaweed: Various types of seaweed are high in glutamate, making them a valuable plant-based source of umami.

Tomato: Tomatoes are another source of naturally occurring glutamate.

Infused Oils: Infusing oils with various ingredients can also create umami in a dish.

MSG: MSG is the isolated glutamate that adds umami flavor.

Bamboo Salt: This is a Korean artisanal salt that is extremely labor-intensive to produce, and quite expensive. It adds a unique flavor and umami to dishes.

Honorable Mention: Yeast Extracts: Nutritional yeast and Marmite are often used in Western vegan cooking as an alternative to cheese.

Nutrient Density: The Key Consideration

Vegan consumers are often health-conscious, valuing nutrient-dense foods. They seek products packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Superfoods, such as chia seeds, quinoa, and kale, are popular ingredients in vegan products due to their high nutrient content.

The Demand for Non-GMO and Organic Labels

The vegan community highly values non-GMO and organic products. These labels assure consumers that the products are free from genetically modified organisms and harmful pesticides, aligning with their health and environmental concerns.

The Rise of Allergen-Free Products

With food allergies on the rise, there's a growing demand for allergen-free products. Vegan consumers appreciate products free from common allergens like gluten, soy, and nuts, making allergen-free labeling a valuable characteristic.

The Impact of Ethical and Sustainable Packaging

Veganism often goes hand in hand with environmental consciousness. Therefore, vegan consumers value sustainable packaging. They prefer products packaged in biodegradable or recyclable materials, reducing their environmental impact.

High Protein Vegan Products: A Growing Trend

As more athletes and fitness enthusiasts adopt vegan diets, the demand for high-protein vegan foods has surged. Products like plant-based protein powders, meat substitutes, and protein-rich snacks are gaining popularity.

The Challenge of Scaling Up Artisan Vegan Foods

amendoasThe vegan food industry is at a crossroads. On one hand, there's a burgeoning artisan vegan sector that's creating delicious, nutritious, and innovative products. On the other hand, there's the challenge of scaling these products up to meet growing demand, without compromising on taste or nutrition, and while keeping them affordable.

Take vegan cheese, for example. Artisan vegan cheeses made from cultured almonds or cashews are considered excellent alternatives to traditional dairy cheese. They offer a rich, creamy texture and complex caju inteiroflavor profiles that can rival their dairy counterparts. However, these gourmet ingredients come with a hefty price tag, especially in developing countries, making these products inaccessible to many consumers.

In contrast, more affordable vegan cheeses, which are often starch-based and derive their flavor from artificial aromas, are generally considered inferior in taste and texture. The gap between these two types of vegan cheese is significant, and bridging it is no easy task.

The challenge lies in fundamentally changing the base of production. We need to increase the availability of ingredients that are currently considered rare and therefore expensive. This would involve ramping up the production of cashews and almonds or finding other cost-effective substitutes that do not compromise on taste or nutrition.

This is not a simple task. It involves a complex interplay of factors, including agricultural practices, supply chains, and market demand. However, the potential rewards are significant. By making high-quality vegan foods more accessible and affordable, we can encourage more people to adopt a plant-based diet, with all the health and environmental benefits that come with it.

The vegan food industry is still in its infancy, and there's much work to be done. But with continued innovation and investment, we can look forward to a future where delicious, nutritious, and affordable vegan foods are the norm, not the exception.

The Push for Transparent Ingredient Lists

Vegan consumers value transparency. They appreciate clear, easy-to-understand ingredient lists that confirm the product is free from animal-derived ingredients. This transparency builds trust between the consumer and the brand.


Understanding the Importance of Texture in Vegan Foods

Texture plays a crucial role in the enjoyment of food. Vegan consumers expect plant-based alternatives to mimic the texture of the foods they replace. Advances in food technology are making this possible, improving the consumer experience.

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The Allure of Unique and Innovative Flavors

Finally, vegan consumers are adventurous eaters. They appreciate unique and innovative flavors that make plant-based eating exciting. Brands that experiment with global flavors and unique ingredient combinations are likely to stand out in the vegan food market.

In conclusion, the vegan food market is diverse and dynamic. Understanding these valued characteristics can help businesses develop products that meet consumer demands and succeed in this growing market.

plant based foods chalenges


"Taste Matters: Effects of bypassing oral stimulation on hormone and appetite responses" on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website. Here is the link to the article.

"Meeting consumer expectations for plant-based products". The interview discusses the reasons why consumers are increasingly adopting plant-based diets. Key drivers include health concerns, sustainability, and animal welfare. The interview also highlights that consumers have high expectations in terms of taste, texture, smell, nutritional profile, clean label, naturalness, and minimally-processed food when it comes to plant-based products. Here is the link to the interview.

"Nutrient Profiles of Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian Dietary Patterns" on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website. The study compares nutrient intakes between vegetarian and non-vegetarian dietary patterns. The results show that vegetarian diets are highly nutrient-dense, which supports the claim that plant-based diets can provide all the necessary nutrients. Here is the link to the full article.

"Becoming a Vegetarian". The article discusses the various health benefits of a vegetarian diet, including reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. It also emphasizes the importance of a well-planned vegetarian diet to ensure nutritional adequacy. Here is the link to the article.

"Sustainable Packaging in the Food and Grocery Industry: What You Need to Know" on Edge2Edge. The article discusses the growing trend of sustainable packaging in the food and grocery industry. It highlights that consumers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of packaging and are demanding more sustainable options. The article also provides tips for brands to design and produce eco-friendly food packaging. Here is the link to the article.

"Can A “Rebellious & Innovative” Vegan Food Company Hold Up To The Hype? A Review". The article reviews a vegan food company, VFC (Vegan Fried Chick*n), and its products. The author mentions that the company's products are flavorful and nutritious, and they use wheat protein with a spice-infused southern-fried crispy cornflake coating. The author also suggests that the products need an accompanying sauce to enhance the taste. Here is the link to the article.

"Innovations in plant-based diets: Impact on nutrient quality and health outcomes" published in the journal "Nutrition Reviews". The article discusses the nutritional quality of plant-based diets and their impact on health outcomes. The authors mention that plant-based diets can provide all the necessary nutrients for human health, except for vitamin B12, which needs to be supplemented. They also highlight that plant-based diets are associated with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Here is the link to the article.

Here are three more academic references that support the claims made in the article:

Cellular Agriculture: An Outlook on Smart and Resilient Food Agriculture Manufacturing by S. Bapat, Vishvesh Koranne, N. Shakelly, A. Huang, M. Sealy, J. Sutherland, K. Rajurkar, A. Malshe. This paper discusses the concept of cellular agriculture as part of the new food agriculture manufacturing revolution. It mentions that for the majority of the world population, animal protein is a critical food nutrient source for a balanced diet. However, the global demand for this protein is predicted to double by 2050, which calls for alternative protein manufacturing methods, such as those used in vegan food production.

Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers by D. Rogerson. This paper discusses how to manage vegan diets for athletic purposes and suggests that a nutritive vegan diet can be designed to achieve the dietary needs of most athletes satisfactorily.

Developing a Global Perspective for Health Promotion by J. Maddock. This paper discusses the importance of developing a global perspective for health promotion. It mentions that about half of premature deaths are preventable through health behavior change, including nutrition, which is a key aspect of a vegan diet.

Quality of plant-based food materials and its prediction during intermittent drying by Nghia Duc Pham et al. This paper discusses the quality of plant-based food materials and their prediction during intermittent drying. It provides a comprehensive review of the potential effect of intermittent drying methods on physical, chemical, nutritional, and stability characteristics of plant-based food material.

Theoretical Food and Nutrient Composition of Whole-Food Plant-Based and Vegan Diets Compared to Current Dietary Recommendations by M. Karlsen et al. This paper compares the theoretical food and nutrient composition of whole-food plant-based and vegan diets to current dietary recommendations. It concludes that individuals who adhere to whole-food plant-based meal plans would have higher overall dietary quality as compared to typical US intakes.

Flavor challenges in extruded plant-based meat alternatives: A review by Yaqin Wang et al. This paper discusses the flavor issues of plant-based meat alternatives and the technologies available to improve flavor and, ultimately, acceptability.

Probiotic Delivery through Non-Dairy Plant-Based Food Matrices by D. Rasika et al. This paper focuses on non-dairy plant-based probiotic food products and their microbiological quality characteristics in terms of maintaining probiotic viability during product storage.

These references provide further evidence that supports the claims made in the article about the importance of taste, nutrient density, allergen-free products, sustainable packaging, high protein content, and innovative flavors in vegan food products.

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