Innovation is not all Greek to us: Our vegan take on the classic gyro
The Brenntag Food & Nutrition North America application team has created something delicious to stand out from the meat substitute crowd. The plant-based Vegan Gyro concept will be showcased at the IFT20 Virtual Experience (July 13-15).
Whether due to animal welfare, health or sustainability concerns, or a combination, more and more consumers are looking to trim back on their meat intake. A 2019 Innova Market Insights consumer survey found 42% of US consumers and 38% of Canadians have increased their consumption of meat substitutes over the previous year. The primary reason for switching is “because it is healthy” as expressed by 51% of US consumers, and 45% of Canadians.
It’s never been easier to opt for a meat alternative option with plant-based meat substitutes. Thanks to a wider variety of available raw materials and better processing methods, there’s been a vast increase in the range and quality of plant-based options, and related product offerings. Innova Market Insights reports a 12% growth in meat substitute product launches in North America from 2018 to 2019. More than half of the 2019 launches (55%) featured a “vegan” claim, even though their appeal goes far beyond the vegan market.
Stepping up to the challenge
The vegan gyro concept presented a number of technical challenges to the Brenntag North America team. As Terry Wagner, Senior Food Scientist at Brenntag North America explains, these ranged from matching the texture, visually mimicking the fat drippings seen in a traditional gyro, determining the appropriate delivery method of the natural flavours, through to understanding the gelling interactions at variable temperatures.
Terry outlined how these challenges were overcome:
- 1. Texture mimicking: The texture challenge of mimicking real meat was met through the innovative use of a protein blend. “In this application, the pea protein helps with water and emulsion stability, while the rice protein enhances the product's physical integrity by increasing gel strength, and increasing the overall nutritional value,” he explains. “Textured soy protein is used for texture by mimicking the strand and particles of meat fiber seen in a traditional gyro. It also helps with water binding and mouthfeel,” he adds.
- 2. Fat blending: Fat has a vital role to play in a traditional gyro. It oozes from the meat cone during cooking, provides juiciness, is a part of the semi-stable emulsion of the cone, and is a major contributor to flavor. Here the food scientists relied on the innovative blending of fats. “We opted for a blend of saturated (coconut oil) and unsaturated fat (canola oil) to mimic the nutritional label impact and functionality of the fat in a traditional gyro. In this way, we could create a product containing approximately 22% less fat than a meat gyro, without a loss of flavor or juiciness,” Terry notes.
- 3. Flavor & color: The natural flavor challenge was overcome through the clever combination of base-notes (yeast extract) and top-notes. A yeast extract predominantly drives the umami and savory flavour in the concept. In contrast, natural meat "type" flavors enhance the overall product and deliver the expected sensory experience. “Having flavors with different solubilities is vital in ensuring that flavor is delivered up front during consumption but also through the entire eating process. This is why two natural vegan lamb type flavors (one water soluble and one oil soluble) were chosen,” Terry explains. Naturally sourced color from Chr. Hansen was selected to enhance the visual appearance and authenticity of the gyro meat.
- 4. The changing matrix: Last but not least, the team had to consider how the ingredients in a vegan gyro would interact throughout the production process. “A gyro is subjected to a wide temperature range; it is heated to at least 165F° (74°C) on a spit style rotisserie grill, and then it is sliced and served on a pita with various cold toppings such as tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and tzatziki sauce, which cool the gyro meat during the serving and eating process,” Terry explains. These factors challenged the food scientists to achieve similar thermo gelling and texture characteristics to the traditional version at all relevant temperatures. The team opted for modified cellulose, carrageenan, and tapioca flour, as binding and gelling agents, each with their own specific purpose. “The thermo gelation properties of the methylcellulose deliver an optimum texture for the vegan gyro during hot temperatures while the carrageenan gum helps keep a firm texture while the product cools. These binding and gelling agents, along with pea and rice protein isolates and textured soy protein, create a carveable product with the appropriate texture at both hot and cold textures,” Terry concludes.
Get in touch
Reach out to the North American F&N team today to discuss how we can help inspire you to create healthy and flavorful meat substitutes that can serve up a truly on-trend alternative.