Plant-based ‘yoghurt’: fermenting the milk alternative trend

Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark have unveiled a sophisticated dairy-free version of yoghurt, but they're not the only ones gunning for the category.

16 January 2020

In a world where short, clear ingredient lists help reassure mistrustful consumers, the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) think they have scooped the competition. On Tuesday, the higher education facility revealed that they have developed a vegan ‘yoghurt’ made from just three ingredients. 

The concept stemmed from a desire to create a process specifically for fermenting plant-based beverages that would require no additives.

“There are already commercially available plant-based ‘yogurt’ products on the market, which are made with existing starter cultures that were developed for use in milk-based products,” wrote DTU in its announcement.

“In order for the bacteria to grow enough to turn the plant-based products sour and give them a nice aroma, producers have to add sugar. In addition to the added sugar, the producers use other ingredients to give their products the desired consistency and taste, which results in a longer list of ingredients.”

DTU’s solution was to scour the plant kingdom for lactic acid bacteria, theorising that microbes optimised to break down sugar in plant materials would be best at fermenting a vegetable product.

According to the university, their research yielded “bacterial strains that can acidify a soy beverage and create a texture that is reminiscent of a traditional yogurt.”

In addition to the liquidised soy and bacteria, spent grains were added for fibre content, flavour characteristics (to “help conceal any unwanted flavours from the soy”) and to introduce a sustainable element to the product.

The researchers are continuing to perfect the texture and taste of the product, with an eye to procuring a commercial partner that can help them bring the finished ‘yoghurt’ to market.

Soy beans, oat grains and macadamia nuts

Last May, Holly Doran from ProVeg International told Food Spark that plant-based yoghurt was a category that still lacked diversity, describing the existing options as “often artificial, sugary and too expensive,” adding that “compelling value propositions are few and far between, meaning consumers are unlikely to repurchase.”

In the major retailers, the options are largely limited to Alpro’s soy-based offering, as well as coconut-based options from Co Yo or the Coconut Collaborative.

However, as dairy alternatives continue to diversify – you can now get everything from hemp to quinoa ‘milk’ – the pace of plant-based yoghurt product development has picked up too.

Abroad, a number of companies are hoping to profit from the 71% leap in volume sales of oat milk between 2017 and 2018, with both Swedish Oatly and US-based Halsa releasing ‘oatgurt’ last year.

Nush tested almond and cashew drinks as yoghurt bases, while Food Karma based its version on flax. Yofix trialled a blend of cereals, lentils, grains and seeds aimed at those who have an environmental or health concern with either dairy or soy.

Green & Gold Macadamia (a marketer which represents six different macadamia processors across five continents) launched an innovation programme to see if its particular nut could be manufactured into both drinkable and set yoghurt.

In a recent survey conducted by Streetbees for Food Spark, 65% of 1,073 Brits said they enjoy yoghurt regularly, yet a significant number admitted to having concerns related to traditional dairy, including 50% who cited animal welfare as an issue; a further 28% were concerned about fat, while the same proportion had more general health concerns about effect of milk on their bodies.

Yoghurt alternatives could address some of these worries, following in the footsteps of plant-based dairy alternatives.

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