Picture of 5 plant-based milk bottles.

Fermented plant-based dairy analogues: a growing trend in sustainable food choices

The increasing awareness of environmental issues, animal welfare concerns, and health-conscious lifestyles has propelled the demand for plant-based alternatives. Consumers are seeking sustainable and ethical options that align with their values and fit into a healthy diet, and plant-based fermented dairy analogues seem to be as suitable alternatives.

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a traditional food preservation and transformation method that involves the breakdown of complex compounds into simpler, more digestible forms by microorganisms. In the context of plant-based dairy analogues, fermentation plays a crucial role in enhancing flavour, texture, and nutritional profiles. Common microorganisms used in the fermentation process include bacteria and yeast, which contribute to the development of unique and desirable characteristics in these products.

Factors influencing perception of fermented dairy analogues

  1. Flavour and texture: Fermentation imparts a distinct acidity and creamy texture reminiscent of traditional dairy products. Replicating or enhancing these aspects through fermentation is crucial for positive sensory experiences and consumer acceptance.
  2. Price-value ratio: Plant-based dairy analogues often command a higher price due to factors related to production. While this may deter price-sensitive consumers, those perceiving these options as premium are often willing to pay a higher price for perceived health, sustainability, and ethical benefits.
  3. Nutritional value: Plant-based dairy analogues offer nutritional profiles comparable to their animal-derived equivalents. Fermentation enhances nutrient bioavailability, making these products rich in vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, appealing to health-conscious consumers. Consumers with milk protein allergy and/or lactose intolerance also can benefit from the dairy analogues.
  4. Clean label and minimal processing: The positive perception of plant-based dairy analogues is influenced by the clean label trend, emphasizing natural and minimally processed ingredients. Fermentation aligns with this trend, resonating well with consumers seeking transparent and wholesome food options.
  5. Environmental and ethical considerations: The environmental impact of traditional dairy farming, including deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage, has led consumers to opt for more sustainable alternatives. Plant-based dairy analogues often have a lower environmental footprint, and this aligns with the values of environmentally conscious consumers.


Challenges and opportunities

While the perception of these products is generally positive, challenges remain. Some consumers may still be resistant to change due to deeply ingrained taste preferences or scepticism about the ability of plant-based alternatives to replicate the sensory experiences of traditional dairy products. Moreover, the availability and affordability of these products can be barriers to widespread adoption.

However, these challenges also present opportunities for innovation. Continued research and development in flavour enhancement, texture optimization, and cost-effective production methods can address consumer concerns and drive further acceptance of plant-based dairy analogues.

Fermentation provides the possibility to develop plant-based dairy alternatives made of various raw materials: cereals cultivated worldwide, e.g. wheat can be used, moreover, the by-products of wheat processing are also appropriate for this purpose. The usage of by-products contributes to the reduction of food losses and can be considered sustainable ingredients. 

WHEATBIOME project: old-new raw materials in product development

Recognizing these aspects, the WHEATBIOME project (funded by EU under Grant Agreement nr. 101084344) focuses on utilizing whole wheat parts to produce sustainable and healthy plant-based food products, including dairy alternatives through novel microbial procedures. By incorporating by-products of wheat processing, the project aims to reduce food losses and develop innovative, nutritious, and delicious plant-based solutions.

In conclusion, the growing interest in plant-based fermented dairy analogues reflects a broader shift towards sustainable choices. Overcoming challenges through innovation and addressing price sensitivity can further enhance the adoption of these alternatives, contributing to a more sustainable and diverse food system.

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