Swedish researchers provide guidance for developing plant-based fermented foods

Researchers at Umeå University have conducted the first consumer study focusing on the role of plant-based fermentation in creating plant-based fermented foods that offer health benefits.

The study is based on a survey of 7,800 EU consumers in over nine European countries, where they surveyed their preferences and attitudes towards plant-based fermented foods. The research is part of the HealthFerm project. HealthFerm is an EU-funded research project investigating innovative pulse and cereal-based food fermentations together with the health effects and consumer perception of novel fermented foods. With 23 partners from across Europe, HealthFerm is committed to transitioning towards a more sustainable global food system.

The study shed light on the development and indicates a societal tipping point. With about 27% of omnivores eating as flexitarians, without identifying as flexitarians, this is a step forward, as it suggests that reducing meat consumption is becoming the new normal, says Professor Armando Perez-Cueto, leader of HealthFerm’s consumer studies, Umeå universitet.

Regarding the role of plant-based fermented foods, both traditional and innovative, Armando Perez-Cueto adds: “The majority of respondents consider fermented plant-based foods as contributing to -and facilitating- the dietary shift.”

The survey has also delved into sensory preferences and identified important characteristics of different fermented plant-based foods by looking at what consumers dislike and like about these foods. For fermented plant-based yogurt and drinkable yogurt, consumers want products that are white, creamy, sweet and uniform, without flavourings.

When it comes to fermented plant-based chicken alternatives, smooth colour, natural shape, chicken-like smell, and a tender texture are important. In protein-enriched breads, small air bubbles, cohesion, toasted and nutty aromas and a crispy yet soft texture are preferred. In addition, the report demonstrates the significant market potential of fermented plant-based foods.

“This groundbreaking study provides valuable guidance for developing innovative plant-based fermentations that are in line with sensory expectations,” says Professor Christophe Courtin, project coordinator of HealthFerm, Katolieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.

Taste preferences are the main driver of dietary choices, followed by health and animal welfare. However, when consumers decide to reduce or eliminate meat from their diet, it is usually for personal health reasons. When it comes to choosing plant-based and fermented plant-based foods, the main obstacles are perceived discomfort, satiety and taste problems, as well as a lack of familiarity with such products.

The study also shows significant market potential for fermented plant-based foods. The researchers have investigated market opportunities and consumer expectations when it comes to plant-based fermented foods. Responses from different countries showed a strong preference for fermented plant-based meat and dairy products that are priced on par with animal alternatives rather than at lower prices.

In addition, the willingness to try foods prepared via different fermentation processes was high, with traditional methods being the most accepted, followed by precision and biomass fermentation. Younger, educated and financially secure respondents showed a greater willingness to try products produced using different fermentation techniques.

“Our research provides insights on how to better communicate these innovations to different segments of consumers in the surveyed countries, hence it is useful for companies, policy makers and practitioners,” concludes Armando Perez-Cueto.

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