GLOBAL – Researchers from Singapore, the UK, and China have highlighted the increasing global demand for plant-based  beverages as consumers turn to ethical, sustainable, and health-conscious choices.

According to the research, plant-based dairy alternatives have gained popularity in recent years, offering diverse flavors and nutritional benefits, catering to lactose-intolerant individuals, vegans, and vegetarians.

The researchers attributed the surge in demand to concerns about the environmental impact of dairy milk production, including land and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and animal welfare.

“Plant-based drinks are seen as a more sustainable option, requiring fewer resources and generating fewer emissions,” the study highlighted.

“They are considered rich sources of essential nutrients, including proteins, dietary fiber, fats, vitamins, and minerals, surpassing the traditional association of dairy milk with calcium and protein.”

Derived from plant sources such as nuts, grains, legumes, and seeds, examples include almond, soy, oat, rice, and coconut drinks.

Each variety offers a unique flavor, texture, and nutritional composition, providing a broad array of choices to suit individual preferences and dietary needs.

Despite their benefits, plant-based beverages face challenges that researchers have identified.

A review by institutions like the National University of Singapore and King’s College London found that soy-based plant drinks have the highest protein content, comparable to cow milk, with plant proteins considered slightly lower than animal proteins.

Dietary fiber in these drinks plays a crucial role in promoting gastrointestinal health, controlling blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and providing satiety.

The prebiotic characteristics of certain fibers contribute to gut microbiota health, potentially benefiting immune responses, neurological health, and weight management.

Plant-based drinks also contain unsaturated fatty acids, offering positive effects on cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol levels.

Rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, selenium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, copper, and manganese, they provide fat-soluble vitamins, with advantages in vitamin E and A content over cow’s milk, although water-soluble vitamins may require fortification.

In the processing sector, challenges include addressing beany smells and urease in soy drinks and starch granules affecting the taste in oat drinks.

Product safety, nutritional considerations, and stability during processing are key issues.

The researchers emphasized the importance of selecting high-quality ingredients, employing environmentally friendly processing techniques, and developing efficient methods to control harmful micro-organisms for the sustainable evolution of plant-based drinks.

The plant-based drink industry faces hurdles in consumer acceptance due to bitter and astringent flavors.

Scientific issues and exploring new extraction technologies are crucial to improving flavor.

Collaboration, innovation, adherence to ethical and labor standards, and addressing complexities in areas like environmental sustainability, supply chain resilience, and nutritional adequacy are deemed essential for the sustainable development of the plant-based drink processing industry.

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