The start-up has produced a chickpea-based firm cheese that ‘delivers the bold, earthy flavor and chewy texture of cheddar cheese’, as well as a soft, spreadable variant that combines the isolate alongside water, coconut oil, and starch.
Both cheeses were produced via fermentation with lactic bacteria to obtain a tangier, cheese-like flavor, we were told. Asked why the company has gone down this route to produce their plant-based cheeses, Maor Dahan, application manager, said: “Fermentation is not a mandatory step in the production of plant-based cheeses, and indeed we have achieved excellent results in our development process.
“However, we are committed to offering our customers cleaner and more sustainable solutions. Therefore, we deemed it essential to provide a variation that incorporates fermentation.”
“We utilized the same traditional fermentation process employed in dairies to create our plant-based cheese. To our delight, fermentation not only helped us create a cleaner label cheese, but it also significantly enhanced the sensory profile, resulting in a superior texture and a deeper, richer taste similar to dairy cheeses.” – Maor Dahan, application manager at ChickP Protein, Ltd.
Asked when the firm’s protein isolate is added to the mixture – and how the ingredient’s presence affects the structure of the base – Dahan explained: “The protein is added to the recipe at the very beginning of the process, before the fermentation stage. During fermentation, probiotic bacteria grow and produce acids, which lower the pH, decrease protein solubility, and lead to a thicker cheese with a more complex taste. Although we did not perform a viable count, the drop in pH observed during the fermentation process serves as compelling evidence of high microbiological activity.”
A key selling point for the ChickP cheeses is that they are ‘highly nutritious’. Considering the presence of starches and oils, which have a low nutritional value, we asked the company how its cheese analogs stand out in that respect. “Our cheeses are relatively rich in protein (5%) compared with other plant-based cheeses in the market,” Dahan explained, quoting a 2022 analysis of nutritional facts labels1 that shows only 3% of cheese alternatives contained 5g or more of protein. Dahan did not address our question on whether the cheeses were fortified additionally to contain other nutrients.
He sought to clarify however that chickpeas do contain a complete protein2,3: “Until recently, there had been a lack of thorough investigation into the nutritional aspects of chickpeas, and many papers cited outdated publications," he said. "Chickpeas do contain a complete protein, with all the essential amino acids. This has been confirmed not only through amino acid analysis but also through animal studies in which growth was used as the criterion and indeed the results were similar to those fed with milk protein, etc.”
'Notably richer' texture thanks to the isolate
So how did the isolate help create the desired cheese texture? Dahan said ChickP made cheese both with and without the ingredient to compare the results.
“When producing cheese without our protein, we consistently obtained a texture that was similar to other cheeses available on the market. However, when our protein was added to the recipe, the resulting texture was notably richer, reminiscent of that found in dairy cheeses."
“Our protein is an isolate, boasting a purity level of 90%. Among its properties is its emulsification ability, which facilitates the binding of fats to water, much like the process found in dairy cheese,” he added.
Achieving desirable results
Company CEO, Liat Lachish, thinks the ingredient could close a gap in the market for stabilizer-free plant-based cheeses. “In the plant-based market, a significant challenge is achieving desirable results without resorting to unwanted ingredients,” she said. “Fortunately, due to the unique properties of our protein, our customers can overcome this challenge and reduce the need for stabilizers and emulsifiers, resulting in a more label-friendly product.”
To date, ChickP Protein Ltd. has developed several dairy-free products, including barista milk, yogurt, ice cream and now, cheese. The start-up’s primary focus are the US and the European markets.
Asked how the plant-based segment is likely to evolve given the competition it is facing from other dairy alternative sectors such as precision fermentation, the ChickP executive said: “At ChickP, we place a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability and recognize the importance of exploring a range of protein sources to support a sustainable and diversified food supply chain. As such, we welcome all types of alternative protein solutions that can contribute to a more sustainable food system.
According to a BCG analysis, the cell-based protein industry is still in its early stages, and even when it becomes more commercialized, the plant-based protein industry is expected to remain dominant.”
'Slowly becoming mainstream'
According to a Fact.MR projection released in January 2023, sales of plant-based cheese would rise at a CAGR of more than 15% in the next decade. The sector, which is valued at $1.3bn now, is expected to be worth in excess of $5bn by 2033 according to the analysts.
“Plant-based cheese is slowly becoming mainstream, but today's customers are more cautious about product quality and nutritional value,” Fact.MR’s report reads. “As a result, several businesses are increasingly investing resources in research and development activities to effectively mimic cheese's complex functional and flavor profiles. This will help them to expand their customer base during the projection period.”
1. Nutritional Profiles of Non-Dairy Plant-Based Cheese Alternatives
Winston J. Craig, at al
Published: Nutrients, 16 March 2022
2. The potential of legume-derived proteins in the food industry
Goldstein, Neta, et al
Published: Grain & Oil Science and Technology, 16 June 2022
3. Revisiting protein quality assessment to include alternative proteins
Efrat Ornan, et al
Published: Foods, 21 November 2022