It’s no secret that plant-based diets have become more popular, and with an increased focus on sustainability and the environment, the attention on this type of diet will only continue to grow. Consumers are increasingly shifting toward “flexitarian” lifestyles, which include a diet that is mostly plant-based with occasional consumption of animal products. According to a report by Bloomberg Intelligence, plant-based food sales are expected to see a fivefold increase by 2030. What does this mean for the food ingredient industry?
A common misconception is that all plant-based foods are labeled “organic” or “all-natural” and consist of mostly vegetables and seeds. The truth is, many plant-based foods contain food additives, many of which are found in nature and provide technical as well as functional benefits.
Food ingredients, including food additives, are as varied in their origin as they are in function. Some food additives come from minerals, while others are derived from plant sources like seaweed, trees, and fruit. Regardless of source, all food ingredients serve a purpose.
So, what type of plant-based ingredients should you look for on the ingredient lists of your favorite foods?
In place of animal-derived gelatins, many food manufacturers use a substance called carrageenan, which is an essential component of many nut milks, popsicles, pizza and infant formula. Derived from red seaweed, this substance is grown sustainably and harvested from oceans around the world. Carrageenan is a plant-based ingredient that may be used in foods labeled vegetarian, vegan, halal, kosher, and organic. In addition, carrageenan as a food ingredient is often used to replace sodium, fats and sugars – three nutrients that, when consumed in excess, have proven to be detrimental to heart health.
Guar gum is another example of a plant-based ingredient that can be used to enhance foods. This thickening agent is derived from guar beans and is used to keep fats and oils from separating in foods like soups, stews and yogurts. Additionally, studies have shown that guar gum, when consumed in moderation, can act as a prebiotic, blood sugar regulator and weight loss aid. Locust bean gum, also referred to as carob bean gum, closely resembles guar gum and is also used as a plant-based thickening agent. This ingredient is a major source of dietary fiber and can be found in desserts, ice cream, dressings and sauces.
Additionally, without food ingredients, you may not have access to some of your favorite plant-based products. Some plant-based meat products contain an ingredient called methylcellulose, which acts as an emulsifier by binding the ingredients of the patty together. Without this key ingredient, the burgers would fall apart.
Food ingredients even play a role in the produce at your local grocery store. Mono and diglycerides (typically categorized as emulsifiers) are ingredients often found in frozen foods, chocolate and infant formula. However, these ingredients may also be used as edible coatings applied directly to the surface of fresh fruits and vegetables. This prevents the produce from spoiling and decaying too quickly.
These are just a few of many food ingredients derived from plants or that may be found in plant-based foods. To learn more about different sources of food ingredients, click here.