Rice starch creates dairy-like texture in plant-based yogurt, dessert: IFT report

There’s a lot of white space and opportunity in plant-based yogurts and desserts. Heading into IFT’s FIRST virtual event, Beneo explains why rice starch will advance the state of the plant-based market.

Within the burgeoning plant-based food and beverage market, certain sub-categories take center stage: non-dairy milk leads the pack, followed by products like non-dairy ice cream, non-dairy creamer, and non-dairy yogurt. Ingredient supplier Beneo Inc. (Parsippany, NJ) has its sights set on the plant-based yogurt and dessert markets, promoting why the company’s rice starch is an ingredient that will help formulators create dairy-alternative versions of these products with better texture and stability.

Taste is one of the plant-based-food attributes consumers prioritize most. A June 2020 survey conducted by HealthFocus International in the U.S. on more than 800 Internet users found that up to 59% of respondents chose “novelty and taste preference” as a primary motivator for purchasing plant-based products, eclipsing the percentage who chose plant-based products for sustainability reasons. Thus, creating plant-based products that provide a better consumer taste experience, often in line with eating conventional dairy products, is paramount.

The biggest challenges in replacing dairy ingredients with plant-based ingredients include achieving the same texture, mouthfeel, and flavor consumers associate with dairy. During a July 15 Beneo press briefing before the Institute of Food Technologists’ FIRST virtual event, Jamie Matthews, application center manager, Beneo, said, “Dairy’s got a very unique protein and fat structure. The networks they form when it’s heated, cultured, and frozen—just really unique textures that everybody knows and loves—create a bit of a challenge for product developers to try to recreate, [but] with the right toolbox of ingredients, you can get close to dairy.”

Rice starch is one such tool. Beneo’s RemyPure S51 is a functional, clean-label native rice starch that exhibits high tolerance in low-pH, high-temperature, high-shear environments. It offers a neutral taste, and it can create a creamy mouthfeel similar to dairy’s. For instance, Beneo demonstrated RemyPure S51’s capabilities in a coconut-based yogurt prototype that delivered the same creamy mouthfeel as a comparable dairy product. It can also be used to create other styles of yogurt, such as Greek yogurt. “There’s a lot of room for customization of the texture,” said Matthews.

Steven Gumeny, regional product manager, Beneo, explained the properties of rice starch that suit it to be a dairy replacement while maintaining the same desirable dairy texture. “The small granule of rice is the same size as a fat molecule,” he said. “What that means is that on your tongue, it’s mimicking the sensory feel of fat, so when you use a small-granule starch like rice starch in lieu of a traditional creamy [ingredient] like a dairy fat, you get a very similar sensory sensation on your tongue.”

In addition to being a natural texturizer, rice starch offers stability benefits, such as in yogurts and frozen desserts. The reason, Gumeny explained, is that “the branching of the starch molecule is unique compared to the way other starch molecules are branched. Rice starch is naturally branched in a way that resists…syneresis, which means moisture loss. These branches actually trap moisture in a way that it won’t come out when you’re freezing and thawing a frozen dessert, or storing a yogurt in the fridge for six months. It’s going to naturally enhance the stability of that product in a way that no other starch will really come close to.”

During the press briefing, Beneo distributed samples of an oat-based, Dulce de Leche caramel dessert spread featuring high-amylose native rice starch and rice flour to optimize texture. To achieve the Maillard reactions that help to develop caramel color, Matthews explained that in lieu of using milk proteins and sugar to achieve Maillard browning, the company instead used its Palatinose isomaltulose slow-release sweetener and vegetable protein to “mimic some of that Maillard color and flavor that you get with dairy.”

Gumeny stressed the opportunities to innovate in the plant-based dessert market. “When it comes to [plant-based] dessert, your options have been really limited to the dairy-free frozen yogurts and a few other little one-offs, normally based on things you’re going to find in the freezer section and eat with a spoon. The global vegan dessert market is going to grow in volume, [and] I firmly believe that the variety within that market is going to continue to expand because certainly there is not as high of a number of desserts that are dairy-free compared to traditional dairy desserts.”

Rice starch is a “premium starch,” Gumeny added. “It’s known as a premium starch. There’s no two ways around it. The unique benefits that give it the ability to do all these things in all these different applications make it a step above some of these other starches that are made from, especially in the U.S., cheaper botanical sources.” And while other more “budget-friendly” starches like corn starch exist, those ingredients can come with “some cereal notes and some different coloring that corn starch imparts, whereas rice has a very neutral color and flavor, which is so important in a yogurt where that color and those flavors are going to come right through,” he said.

It also offers important sourcing benefits, such as price stability, compared to other hydrocolloids. “[R]ice starch is very stable when it comes to pricing the market for rice,” Gumeny said. “It is not as volatile as something like locust bean gum, so it does give you a sense of stability that you won’t have to reformulate every time there’s a shortage on your preferred hydrocolloid.”

Rice starch is also perceived as natural by consumers, with Beneo pointing to data from a survey the company conducted in 2018 showing that 63% of U.S. consumers viewed rice as natural.

Beneo believes rice starch will play an increasingly important role in the plant-based food and drink market. Ingredient suppliers like Beneo are working to help formulators find the right mix of replacement ingredients to deliver desirable products. “The versatility of dairy really jumps out to me—that you can get a creamy smoothie beverage, a light and airy whipped cream, or a rich, decadent frozen dessert,” Gumeny said. “It’s all coming from dairy, in one way or the other, and to do that without dairy, there’s really not a single magic bullet…You do need a system to make it work, but it is possible. With the right system and the right mix of ingredients, you can get all those textures that consumers love in dairy without any actual dairy-based products.”

He continued: “It’s really about finding that right balance between texture, nutritionals, and stability and, again, using the right ingredients, and we’re happy to see rice starch being one of those ingredients that’s going to continue to further the growth in the category.”