Defining Creamy in Plant Based Products
When a sensory panelist describes a vegan product as creamy what exactly are they describing?
When your technologists are given the task to make the product creamier what is the goal?
Is creamy a texture or a flavor when describing vegan foods?
In my work as a Sensory Analyst for a company that produced non-dairy versions of ice cream, yogurt, and milk this question caused a lot of confusion and some heated debates. Through working with our in-house panel I was able to create a common language to more accurately describe vegan products.
We looked at vegan ice creams, yogurts, and beverages comparing them to the dairy counterparts.
It was discovered that creamy can be used to describe both a texture and a flavor. For example, the flavor of cooked sweet cream is an attribute a flavor house can create vs being creamy. While gums and stabilizers add texture to plant-based foods the main descriptors are gel-like and slippery. I dug in and began my research. What does a consumer mean when they define something as creamy? In a vegan product what components in the formula mimic the result of a creamy texture and flavor?
The panel and I got to work breaking it down.
Texture was the first step. The standard texture scales did not get into the detail needed to properly describe plant-based product.
Texturally creamy is a combination of mouthfeel, mouth coating, viscosity, fattiness and how quickly that coating dissipates after swallowing. The ranking can be anywhere from 1 to 7 on an intensity scale where 1 would be water and 7 would be peanut butter.
When analyzing vegan ice cream, another component essential to mimicking dairy is getting the melt rate right.
Calibrating the panel to texture scales created specifically for your vegan product will help product developers with a tool for adjusting gums, fats, and other components to dial in an acceptable texture.
The second issue occurs during product profiling.
It is common for those untrained in vegan specific products to use animal-based descriptors.
Again, creamy does not accurately describe the flavor of a nut milk. If you want to accurately describe the product you need to train panelists on all ingredients.
Creamy (Dairy) Nutty (Fatty)
Cooked Milk Roasted
With more training, the panel can identify nut type, cooked, raw, or blanched as well as the level of roast.
Creating strong descriptors for your products makes consumer testing, competitor analysis, and formulation changes easy to analyze.
Creating a common language based on quantifiable characteristic will allow everyone in the company to discuss and improve the products.
If you would like more information feel free to contact me through LinkedIn