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New lactic acid bacteria make plant-based foods taste better

September 1, 2022

A new type of lactic acid bacteria, developed by researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), can form natural butter flavor when grown in plant-based drinks such as soy and oat milk.

Consumers increasingly demand plant-based alternatives to milk, cheese, butter, and yoghurt, but the demand is limited by the flavor and texture of these products. Many consumers want a flavor and texture that is similar to that of the foods they are used to.

Now researchers from DTU National Food Institute have found a new way to improve the quality of plant-based foods by converting the sugar in plant-based drinks into natural butter flavor. The key to good taste in many dairy products is the buttery flavor.

"The taste that characterizes our dairy products is dependent on the butter flavor. Without butter flavor, butter would not taste like butter, just as cheese and yogurt would taste different,” commented Christian Solem, Associate Professor from DTU National Food Institute, who is behind the innovation.

“The new lactic acid bacterium therefore has the potential to create plant-based products with a taste that comes closer to the one we are familiar with from traditional products.”

Butter flavor if formed when lactic acid bacteria convert the citric acid in milk. Artificially produced butter flavor is usually added to margarine, made from plant oils, to achieve the right taste and aroma. By slightly changing the properties of the lactic acid bacteria, the researchers have made it possible for them to produce butter flavor from sugar, and not from citric acid.

"In this way, we have created a shortcut to butter flavor without using milk, but the butter aroma has the same good properties," Solem added.

The new form of plant-based buttery flavor can be used in many ways - for example in plant-based spreads, in plant-based alternatives to yogurt and cheese, and in other plant-based foods.

"The solution is 100% natural and has been tested by a large Danish dairy with good results. We hope that more companies would like to explore it", said Solem.

The researchers behind the technology are in the process of publishing their research results, and an article is expected to appear autumn 2022. Besides Christian Solem, Belay Tilahyn Tadesse, Liuyan Gu and Shuangqing Zhao have participated in the work.

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