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Flavor and function considerations when pumping up protein volume

Consumers increasingly are hitting the road to wellness and seeking out products high in protein to fuel their bodies before, during and after workout. Fortunately, today’s array of protein-rich sports nutrition products is in sharp contrast to yesteryear’s ready-to-mix (RTM), ready-to-drink (RTD) powders and energy bars that often fell short on flavor and taste.

Brands looking to enter the mainstream sports nutrition space must remember taste is always No. 1 in consumers’ minds, which means food developers must balance the beneficial effects of increasing protein content with the final product’s texture, appearance, taste and stability.

Plant proteins are available in isolates—including powders used for fortification—fractionated concentrates, and whole-food ingredients that are naturally high in protein and lend texture, color and flavor to foods and beverages. In addition to vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and dietary fiber are other inherent benefits naturally packaged into wholefood sources of plant proteins. Furthermore, plant proteins meet several dietary needs.

“Consumer choices are driven by their quest to increase the repertoire of plant-based foods and protein in their diet as they directly link consumption to a healthier lifestyle,” said Melissa Sheridan, strategic marketing director, functional ingredients and additives, Kerry. “It is also linked to many consumers reducing their meat consumption, adopting a ‘flexitarian approach’ and an interest in a more sustainable food production system.”

While dairy proteins such as whey and casein traditionally have been the go-to proteins for building muscle, plant proteins are taking center stage as consumers look for ways to reduce their intake of animal-derived foods. However, the rapid advancement of plant-based proteins has created two key issues facing developers: mouthfeel and lingering off-flavors.

Consider pea protein, which can impart an earthy, grassy or beany aftertaste and gritty texture. Product developers typically will add other ingredients such as prebiotic fibers to change the texture of the protein and make it more palatable, noted longtime sports nutrition formulator Bruce Kneller, currently a partner with HiQ Financial Holdings Inc.

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