DENMARK Scientists at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food Science have developed plant-based cheese made from yellow pea protein, resulting in a product with a firm texture and improved aroma profile.

The achievement leverages the power of fermentation and yellow peas as the primary protein source, aiming to replicate the compounds typically found in dairy cheese.

Fermentation, an age-old technique originating in China, has been harnessed to create a plant-based cheese that mimics the flavor and texture of dairy cheese.

Carmen Masiá, an industrial PhD candidate at the university, emphasized the effectiveness of fermentation in enhancing the sensory qualities of plant-based cheeses.

She explained that fermentation not only contributes to the texture but also helps reduce the characteristic bean-like aroma often associated with yellow pea protein, a common ingredient in plant-based products.

“The utilization of fermentation in food production has a rich history, particularly in Asian culinary traditions, where it has been employed for centuries for food preservation and flavor development,” she said.

“Today, fermentation extends its reach to various sectors, including the production of beverages and pharmaceuticals.”

The research builds upon Masiá’s previous work, where she identified yellow pea protein as an ideal base for creating fermented plant-based cheese.

In this study, she tested 24 bacterial combinations provided by biotech company Chr. Hansen. These bacterial blends were inoculated into a protein base made from yellow pea protein.

Remarkably, after just eight hours of incubation, a firm, cheese-like gel with an improved aroma was produced, reminiscent of fresh soft white cheese.

Masiá clarified that the primary objectives were to reduce the beaniness of yellow pea protein and produce volatile compounds characteristic of dairy cheese.

“While some bacterial combinations performed better than others in generating specific volatile compounds, all of them successfully reduced the bean-like aroma in the samples and introduced dairy aroma notes to varying degrees.”

She highlighted that plant-based cheese production faces challenges due to fundamental differences between plant proteins and milk proteins.

To address these differences, Masiá noted that producers often incorporate starch or coconut oil to solidify plant-based cheeses and employ various flavor enhancers to achieve a cheese-like taste.

While the development of plant-based cheese has made significant progress, there is still work to be done to achieve the perfect product,” she added.

“Tailored bacterial compositions and cultures need further refinement to attain optimal cheese-like characteristics. Additionally, plant-based cheese may require maturation over time to develop its flavor and character, much like traditional dairy-based cheeses.”

Masiá acknowledged the challenges, stating that consumer satisfaction with the taste and mouthfeel of plant-based cheese is crucial.

“Achieving a product that provides an enjoyable consumption experience is essential, even if it is sustainable and nutritious.”

She concluded with optimism, noting the ongoing efforts of scientists and companies in the field, expressing hope that non-dairy cheeses that taste and feel good will continue to improve in the coming years.