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Agroscope

Characterisation of a Plant-Based Cheese Alternative Based on Swiss Raw Materials

As part of the trend towards vegetarian and vegan products, Agroscope looked into the production of plant-based alternatives to soft cheese based on Swiss raw materials.

Over the last few years, the percentage of vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians has increased due to greater consumer sensitivity to ecological, nutritional, ethical and cultural factors. Food producers must therefore innovate in order to supply alternatives to foods of animal origin and meet these new consumer needs.

Today, the most popular plant-based alternatives to cheeses are soy- or cashew-based. The raw materials from which they are made are mainly produced outside of Europe. What’s more, the producers of these plant-based alternatives often make use of food additives – for example, thickeners are added to obtain the desired consistency, as are flavourings to improve taste and flavour.

Local, lower-additive, plant-based cheese alternatives

Agroscope has set itself the objective of developing a scientific basis for producing plant-based alternatives to these soft cheeses. Raw materials from Switzerland with as few additives as possible should be used. Another important criterion is that such products can be produced in a standard cheese dairy without major investment.

In this study, products based on nuts, lupin flour and oats produced mainly in Switzerland were fermented with commercial cultures or lactic acid bacteria from Agroscope’s strain collection.

The starter cultures had a significant influence on the intensity of the sensory attributes ‘fermented’, ‘tart’ and ‘pungent’. Moreover, the addition of oat flour had a major impact on sensory profile.

Mould-ripened products had a lower water content than vacuum-ripened products. Furthermore, the fat, protein and lactic acid contents of the plant-based alternatives were lower than those of the mould-ripened soft cheeses.

Future trials could be conducted by adjusting and refining the formulation, since this is the key to modifying the nutritional quality, sensory aspects such as texture, and functional characteristics of the plant-based alternatives to cheese.

Left, the fresh product; centre, film-ripened product; right, mould-ripened product. (Photo: Agroscope)

Since the end product contains substantial quantities of fermentable sugars, there is an increased risk of fermentation defects and of the development of undesirable bacteria on the surface of the cheese. In subsequent trials, solutions will need to be pursued that are capable of rapidly fermenting all of the sugar present, such as starter cultures or surface cultures that are more suitable for the plant-based raw material. Other adaptations of the recipe, the development of appropriate cultures with a specific acidification and flavour profile as well as the targeted use of different spices are necessary in order to obtain marketable cheese alternatives.

Conclusions

  • It was possible to produce a vegan product of promising quality from plant-based raw materials of Swiss origin, using simple technological equipment. 
  • The formula could be adjusted in future trials, since it is the key for modifying the nutritional quality, sensory aspects such as texture, and the functional characteristics of plant-based cheese alternatives.
  • Other adaptations of the recipe, the development of appropriate cultures with specific acidification and flavour profiles as well as the targeted use of different spices are necessary in order to obtain marketable cheese alternatives.

It is important to remember that the plant-based alternatives manufactured in the present study cannot be compared with cheeses, as we are dealing here with two different products.

Scientific article

Characterisation of a Plant-Based Cheese Alternative Based on Swiss Raw Materials

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