The plant-based food revolution is gaining momentum. People are turning to the delicious and nutritious value of plant-based foods like never before. Dramatic improvements in taste, texture, and appearance have made a plant-fueled diet more palatable for a broader range of society, including the flexitarians who like to mix from the various food groups a little more liberally in their meal options.
But don’t get it twisted. Our plant-based foods still need to deliver complex flavors, memorable tastes, and amazing food experiences. When you’re able to use as much of the whole vegetable as possible, you increase the opportunity to deliver more nutrients as well. Key to making all of this happen are the unsung heroes of the food world: the research and development (R&D) food scientists that spend countless hours ensuring we get the most out of nature’s goodness.
You see, when a company tries to make a product that is intended as a replacement or to be similar to what people already know, there are a lot of expectations. It takes a lot of behind-the-scenes formulation work to get a product to look, taste, and smell appetizing to the broadest range of people. Typically, in the food world this includes the use of animal proteins, fats, or chemically synthesized, highly-processed, and/or highly-modified ingredients to help ingredients bind or have a longer shelf life. (We’ve all seen those food labels with hard-to-understand or pronounce ingredients.) Here’s something you might not have realized when it comes to many of the plant-based foods we eat today: they use the same artificial or unfamiliar ingredients as binders and stabilizers too, and usually only use the fleshy parts of vegetables which are easier to work with. They throw out skins, cores, or seeds which means they leave behind a lot of the nutritional value vegetables provide for the sake of expediency or simplicity. This approach to plant-based food production also generates a lot more waste.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
ZENB was developed with the idea that eating as much of the whole plant as possible can contribute to sustainable food production as well as to our wellness while remaining delicious. When we appreciate the totality of what nature offers, from core to skin, from seed to sheaths, we are able to deliver a delicious and nutritious product that deserves a place on your everyday menu. Our R&D team has been working for years to perfect new skills, techniques, and approaches to bring as much value out of vegetables as possible. Our centuries-long corporate history of food development has also allowed us to contribute to the improvement of the technology being used to craft better-tasting foods.
“At ZENB, we’ve been focused on preserving the benefits of the whole vegetable ever since we were founded,” shared Shinji Mizumoto, Manager, R&D/Strategic Planning. The skin or peel of vegetables is generally higher in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals than the flesh inside, making this part of the plant among the most nutritious elements. But turning a whole raw vegetable into an ingredient for a food product is a little tougher than it might seem. “Some vegetables have tough skins that are difficult to clean, or hard to digest, or they might be bitter or simply inedible,” explains Mizumoto. Because of our commitment to using as much of the whole plant as possible, a lot of work goes into selecting the right vegetables to use and working through the best process to deliver great taste and texture. In addition, the equipment needed to create the right consistency in the use of whole vegetables has to be highly customized. Technological advances that ZENB has contributed to have made the milling process more sophisticated and able to support a wider range of needs. “We are now able to create very smooth textures from raw vegetable ingredients, which results in products that are more appealing,” concludes Mizumoto.
Accessibility of raw plants is also a challenge that must be considered when crafting whole vegetable products. Creating foods that are available for the masses requires large volumes of raw vegetables. “Plant products are selected based on accessibility and potential to add significant nutrient value when used as a whole,” continues Harry Hokari, General Manager R&D. So far, we have been able to apply our whole vegetable knowledge into the development of products featuring corn, beets, red bell peppers, carrots, edamame, green peas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and our signature vegetable, the yellow pea. “We consider taste and flavor too, and then consider the cost of the raw vegetables,” says Hokari.
As we bring whole vegetable products to the market, ZENB is committed to minimizing the environmental impact of our development process, working to preserve our planet through the supply chain choices that we make. This includes working with farmers that are focused on improving soil conditions and working with crops that are high-yield but have low impact on the earth they are grown in. There is still a lot to uncover with the use of whole vegetables, like yellow peas. Learn more about our approach by watching our documentary, What Plants Can Do.