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Production technology for the alternative proteins food sector

October 26, 2022

Meeting consumer demand for future plant-based foods – meat alternatives included – will require an extraordinary increase in production and processing capacity. New processing techniques are also a must to create products that closely replicate their animal-based counterparts

Handtmann develops and produces modular system technology for food production, including alternative protein products. These modular process solutions are flexibly suitable for portioning, forming, co-extrusion and dosing of a wide range of products and consistencies of alternative proteins. These include, for instance, the company’s ‘ConPro’ technology for sausage-shaped products in alginate casing or even the all-in-one forming technology for snack and convenience products.

Formed alternative protein products

Formed products such as burger patties, nuggets, sticks and balls represent a large segment of alternative proteins. The production of these products utilizes mixing and grinding systems for the production of the basic product as well as processing lines for automated portioning, forming and packaging.

The products are mostly offered raw or pre-cooked as refrigerated or frozen products and the preparation includes roasting, grilling, baking, deep-frying, and more. Vegan mince often forms the basis for the product group of formed meat alternatives. The finely ground product consists essentially of plant proteins, water, vegetable fats and oils, spices, binding agents, colorants and aromas.

Preparation and production techniques are being developed for ever-wider selections of vegan-formed products

Handtmann Inotec mixing and grinding technology offers flexibility for the production of basic vegan products with versatile additional options, such as the possibility of heating or cooling products directly via injection or indirectly via double jacket. The addition of liquids and dry substances during operation is also possible. The product texture can be specifically designed by individual process steps such as the use of vacuum, for example in the efficient rehydration and coloring of texturates, via the mixing direction, mixing time or the mixing interval as well as pauses.

For the production of high-quality vegan-formed products, the initial product must be pumped, portioned and formed gently and be quality-conserved after mixing. This can be achieved with a Handtmann VF 800 vacuum filler, which works with the volumetric feed principle of the vane cell feed system where the vegan product is fed without swirling over a short distance. The mechanical stress on the product is very low due to the small contact surface with moving parts. Undesirable smearing of fat and protein particles is avoided and a clear product appearance is achieved. This effect is particularly noticeable with vegan products because, in many products, the vegetable fat (e.g. coconut fat) contained is usually added in an isolated, free form. Depending on the texture of the initial product and desired appearance of the end product, the described forming system can be used with or without an integrated inline grinding system.

When it comes to preserving the fat and texturate particles or the structure of other recipe components, an important step has already been taken with gentle feeding of the product. If, for example, fat particles or other recipe components should not only be evenly distributed but also clearly visible in the end product, the use of inline grinding technology is beneficial. Uniform fiber length in the initial product to be formed is beneficial for an accurate forming and separating process, especially for formed products with small portion weights.

For the production of high-quality vegan formed products, the initial product must be pumped, portioned and formed gently and quality-conserved after mixing

For subsequent forming, Handtmann offers the one-lane FS 525 forming and cutting system, which combines two different, forming principles. The system can be used both for free forming but also for forming and cutting, rendering it flexible for a wide variety of products. The hole plate forming technique allows the production of free-formed 3D products with a diameter of 18-100mm. The production output is up to 250 cycles per minute. Examples of free-formed and optionally flattened products include burgers, balls, rissoles, cevapcici and more. For direct product packaging under hygienic conditions, the system solution can optionally be integrated into complete lines. Moreover, automated processes can help transfer the products to downstream systems such as water/oil baths or breading systems. Applying the rotary cutting principle, different cross-sections from 15-130mm can be produced with a straight cut and a production output of up to 350 cuts per minute with a two-arm blade or up to 200 cuts per minute with a one-arm blade.

Handtmann offers specialist plant-based meat processing solutions for forming, cutting, portioning, dosing and co-extrusion

Examples of formed and separated products include burgers and patties, nuggets, sticks, slices, bars and more. The optional use of a flattening belt and different structuring rollers further expands the given wealth of variants. Production takes place onto downstream transfer systems, retracting conveyor and tray depositor or the products are transferred to a frying line or similar. However, the high flexibility of the FS 525 does not compromise economical production because the changeover of forming technology is possible in under three minutes and consistently high performance is achieved in the continuous production process.

The FS 525 forming and cutting system can be incorporated into integrated processes or be synchronized with automation options. Both individual automated process steps and fully automated solutions down to the packaging unit are possible, such as with the Handtmann transfer system, which offers process-reliable feeding and depositing of formed meat alternatives into trays. A wide variety of product depositing patterns such as single, shingled or stacked are possible in the process of tray feeding and depositing the products into trays.

All modules of the transfer system are integrated in the central and networked Handtmann control system, which ensures perfect synchronization and simple operation of both modules and overall line. The integrated quality monitoring – including control of the product lengths and targeted ejection – ensures a continuous and economically efficient overall process. This also includes the continuous, automatic monitoring of crucial process parameters such as filling pressure, temperature and vacuum level by the VF 800 vacuum filler.

The basic function of this practical solution is to automatically assure quality standards in the production process, in doing so avoiding rejects, which are often only discovered after completion of a product. Consistent hygienic design and the elimination of manual interventions ensure excellent hygienic production conditions at the same time.

Crossover snack products in alginate casing

Products in alginate casing with filling or spice coating are the trend. They offer snacking, eating pleasure, premium quality and variety combined as a three-in-one mix product. The innovation of the product is the extra taste and seasoning as a result of three-way extrusion. Crossover snacks offer a high product development potential as the three-way extrusion enables innovative products with a surprising filling or variable spice coating, an appealing appearance and a tender bite due to the alginate casing. These products can be produced in a wide variety with a Handtmann system solution comprising a vacuum filler with integrated inline grinding system technology and the KVLSH 162 ConProLink system with Koex kit.

Trend products such as vegan bacon, sashimi, etc

Newer products are combining the latest trends in vegan meat substitutes, treats and presentation and optimally complement the portfolio of vegan burgers, meatballs and sausages. The product innovation for vegan bacon is a new co-extrusion process for vegan products with an individual product appearance as a result of a large variety of nozzles and the option of presenting the product in slices, strips or cubes (e.g. as a topping).

Handtmann is playing a key role in providing new technology and solutions to meet customer demands in the plant-based industry

The product is the vegan alternative to conventional products, such as fried bacon slices, marinated, baked, flavored vegetable strips made from carrot, courgette, beetroot, etc, or alternatives made from banana peelings, rice paper or seitan. Vegan bacon can be produced using a Handtmann system solution comprising Inotec mixing technology, two vacuum filling machines (master and slave), a co-extrusion nozzle and a GMD 99-2 portioning unit (optional direct co-extrusion into forms). Sashimi, salmon fillets and more can also be produced as alternative protein products with Handtmann system technology.

Plant-based alternative products have great potential for food manufacturers. This applies not only to the meat industry, but also to all other industries processing animal proteins such as milk, fish or eggs. For the manufacturers, it is a big advantage that they are no longer bound to the classic, industry-specific product range as a result of the plant-based raw materials. For example, a manufacturer from the meat sector can easily produce plant-based dairy or fish alternatives on its vegan production lines. However, to fully exploit this new flexibility, process technology is required that can be used to process a wide variety of initial products and to produce a wide variety of products. This is precisely the scope for product innovations from vegan fish sticks to vegan cheese balls to vegan burger patties offered by Handtmann Inotec mixing and grinding technology as well as Handtmann line solutions.

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If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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