Science - November 22, 2010

Meat substitutes need not be tasty

Meat substitutes must primarily fit well in a meal. This is more important than the taste of the product itself, as apparent from food research done in Wageningen, which will soon be featured in Food Quality and Preference.

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Researcher Hanneke Elzerman examined how an entire meal is affected by the acceptance of meat substitutes by meat-eaters. While it is very likely that the meal as a whole would be influenced in some way, very little research has been done into this so far, says Elzerman. She carried out tests with dishes (rice, spaghetti, soup meals and salads) containing five different meat substitutes, including quorn and tofu.
Camouflages
The results of the research clearly show that the context of the meal is more important than the taste and texture of individual products, says Elzerman. A meat substitute is not judged by its taste alone, but mainly on how it fits into the whole. It is important that developers of new products know this. 'Attention is currently focused on individual products. But if eaten as part of a meal, their differences disappear. During the development process, the meal in which the meat substitute is part of should be taken into account. In fact, it doesn't matter much whether the individual products are tasty or not. The meal camouflages that.'
Ready-to-eat
Moreover, the camouflaging effect differs from product to product. Some meat substitutes are tastier in a meal than when eaten separately; the opposite applies to others. Combination makes the difference. 'If I were a product developer, I would concentrate on ready-to-eat meals when meat substitutes are involved. I would ensure that the product is being tasted as part of a meal.'
Not tasty
Elzerman also says that meat substitutes do not have to look like meat, although this is advisable to win over meat-eaters. 'The group of consumers who are open to meat substitutes is growing bigger. To make it easier for these consumers, meat substitutes do have to look somewhat like meat, to avoid being too off the beaten path. The products have to look somewhat the same and be prepared in a familiar way.' Furthermore, meat-eaters are not so easily won over. Those who took part in the test did not really find their food very tasty.

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