The role of yeast extract in the plant-based food industry


The food industry is undergoing a profound transformation, with the rising demand for sustainable and healthy plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products. Playing a critical role in supporting this revolution is yeast extract, a versatile ingredient derived from yeast cells.

Yeast extract is invaluable in the development of plant-based foods, owing to its ability to compliment flavour mask off-notes and enhance mouthfeel. We take a closer look into the multifaceted role of yeast extract, exploring its pivotal contributions to creating enticing and nutritious plant-based options. These products cater to the growing consumer preference for eco-conscious and health-oriented diets.

Plant-based food is on the rise

The plant-based food processing industry has experienced remarkable growth in recent years. In fact, according to Bloomberg Intelligence, the plant-based foods market could make up to 7.7% of the global protein market by 2030, with a value of over $162 billion.

There are several reasons why the food industry has seen such a sharp increase over the past decade. First and foremost, there’s been a growth in global awareness  of the environmental impact and ethical concerns surrounding animal agriculture. This has prompted many individuals to explore plant-based diets in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and alleviate their concerns about  animal welfare.

Secondly, a greater focus on health and wellbeing has further fueled interest in plant-based proteins. Research showcasing the health benefits of reducing meat consumption – such as a lowered risk of chronic diseases – has nudged many towards plant-based alternatives.

Furthermore, the food industry has responded to these trends with a plethora of innovative, mouthwatering plant-based products, thus making the transition easier and more enjoyable. From plant-based meats that mimic the taste and texture of traditional options to dairy alternatives that are interchangeable with their animal-derived counterparts, there are options to satisfy every palate.

And with this expanding array of delicious and nutritious plant-based options available, the trend towards plant-based eating shows no signs of slowing down.

What is the role of yeast extract in the plant-based food industry?

Yeast extract plays a pivotal role in the plant-based food industry by addressing two significant challenges in product development. It masks bitter or earthy off-notes sometimes found in dairy alternatives and it delivers umami taste and authentic mouthfeel in meat and cheese substitutes. 

Many plant-based dairy alternatives, like almond milk or soy cheese, can exhibit undesirable earthy or beany notes due to the ingredients used. Yeast extract's savoury and umami-rich profile can effectively mask these off-notes, making the products more palatable and similar to their dairy counterparts. In fact, yeast’s ability to provide a well-rounded flavour profile helps create a smoother and more appealing taste in these alternatives.

Yeast extract has long been prized for its ability to impart a robust umami taste, which is also associated with the savoury notes found in meats and cheeses. By incorporating yeast extract into plant-based meat and cheese substitutes, manufacturers can achieve a more authentic and satisfying flavour profile. This allows consumers to enjoy products that closely mimic the taste and texture of traditional animal products, making the transition to plant-based eating more seamless and enjoyable.

Benefits of yeast extract in plant-based foods

Yeast extracts offer valuable advantages for plant-based foods. Its low-fat and low-calorie profile aligns with health-conscious consumer preferences, allowing food manufacturers to tap into a thriving market. Additionally, yeast extract balances the flavour profile, thereby enhancing products’ appeal. 

The use of yeast extract enables manufacturers to deliver convincing taste and texture when developing plant-based alternative proteins, capitalising on the lucrative demand for sustainable and ethical food choices. 

Source of umami flavour

Yeast extract provides a vital source of umami flavour in plant-based foods. Umami, often described as the 'fifth taste', enhances the overall taste experience by imparting a savoury and deeply satisfying sensation.

Like meat, cheese and tomatoes, yeast extract is naturally rich in glutamic acid, the compound responsible for umami. This helps mimic the savoury notes found in those foods. 

By incorporating vegan yeast extract powder, food manufacturers can create plant-based foods that meet the demand for taste authenticity and sustainable but flavourful alternatives to traditional animal-based options.

Providing nutrition and healthier options

Alongside glutamic acid, yeast extracts are a natural source of other amino acids, vitamins and proteins that are easily absorbed for human nutrition. Yeast extracts will not cover the daily protein requirement as they only tend to be used in small quantities but they will contribute to overall protein consumption in a protein-rich diet.

In addition, with food manufacturers striving to reduce the level of salt in their foods in response to health recommendations, yeast extracts are a great tool for balancing flavours and bringing savoury notes. The strong flavour of yeast introduces a complex and rich savoury taste so that products will still taste good even with less salt.

Improving taste and texture

As well as providing umami taste and delivering the savoury meaty notes so crucial when working with plant proteins, yeast extracts can also work to mask undesirable off-notes. Alternative proteins for plant-based meat and dairy substitutes often leave bitter, earth or astringent off-notes in the finished products but yeast extracts can help by distracting the taste buds and improving the overall taste. Plus they can even give meat-replacement products that juicy and fatty mouthfeel that you get with meat which is often so hard to replicate.

By using yeast extract to improve taste, food manufacturers can cater to the growing segment of health-conscious individuals who prioritise additive-free products. At the same time, manufacturers are still delivering the delicious flavours that consumers desire in their plant-based choices. This makes yeast extract a valuable and marketable component in the all-natural food section.

Yeast extracts prove to be remarkably versatile and invaluable ingredients for plant protein solutions, revolutionising the culinary landscape. Their ability to deliver flavour and improve mouthfeel is second to none and particularly useful in plant-based meat alternatives that might otherwise lack appeal.

Ultimately, yeast extracts have become indispensable components in the food processing industry, playing a vital role in improving the quality, taste and nutritional value of food products.