Last week I had the pleasure to attend and present at the Congress of the Italian Society of Human Nutrition (SINU), a non-profit scientific society that brings together scholars and experts in nutrition. The topic of the event was ”Plant-based foods: oltre una moda” which was held at the ’Università degli Studi di Milano, September the 26th.
The meeting aimed to contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon of plant-based alternatives to animal products, touching on technological, environmental, nutritional, and health aspects, with a focus also on consumption trends and opportunities for the industry. During the conference, several aspects related to foods that are considered alternatives to animal products were analyzed. We started with a presentation by Prof. Marti from the University of Milan focused on the processes required to structure plant-derived proteins underlying plant-based products. Several issues related to texture, sensory qualities and product formulation remain to be resolved, but the growing consumer demand justifies the great interest that research is devoting to this area.
It was followed by my presentation on the consumers' attitudes toward these products; in which I presented the main issue related to sensory and cultural aspects and availability in markets. In particular sensory tests comparing classic burger and plant-based burgers show similar liking between animal and meat-like products, while plant-based burgers made from legumes are less liked. Interesting was the evidence that liking increased when the panel was informed about the nature of the products.
Then Prof Pellegrini of the University of Udine and Prof Fadda of the City and Health and Science of Turin sought to shed light on this point. With respect to the nutritional composition of plant-based foods, although with wide variability, there is a lower caloric intake (particularly for the steak-like product) and lower protein, saturated fat, while higher fiber and sugar content.