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  • By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Unconventional Ag Media

Do Plant-Based Meat Alternatives Live up to the Hype? You be the Judge at Unconventional Ag

It's all the rage... plant-based meat alternatives... but have you taken the time or risk to try them? The upcoming 8th annual Unconventional Ag (formerly titled Organic & Non-GMO Forum) will help you decide through its interactive Plant-Based Chicken Taste and Sensory Panel.

During this hands-on session, hosted by researchers from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition from the Sensory Center at the University of Minnesota, attendees will be provided with samples of real chicken and samples of different plant-based chicken alternatives -- perhaps made with soy or pea or mushroom proteins – and the leading food scientists will give details on the technology behind it all. In the end, you and your fellow table mates are the judges.

To shed more light on the session, Unconventional Ag News posed a few questions to professor Zata Vickers who will lead the session. Here’s what she had to say:

1). Please explain more about the work of the Sensory Center at the University of Minnesota.

The FScN Sensory Center began over 25 years ago, and during this time has proven to play an integral role in guiding research and product development decisions for both internal and external clients by combining their expertise in food science, sensory methods, sensory physiology, and sensory psychology. The Center follows science-backed methods and protocols for every study they complete and assists during all stages of research or product development.

The Sensory Center recognizes the crucial role human perception plays in product acceptance. Despite the many innovations being made within food science, humans are still the only instrument we can use to identify the many subtle sensory attributes that are perceptible in a food product. No instrumental analysis can fully replace the complex experience of human sensation; sensory evaluation remains the final and perhaps most important step in determining a food product’s success. This is why the Sensory Center’s function in UMN research and the Minnesota food industry is so crucial.

The Center maintains databases of trained panelists as well as untrained/consumer panelists for use in research and industry client studies. They also provide excellent opportunities for FScN student workers to gain experiential on-the-job training, similar to what they will be doing in their career after graduation. The Center’s services and expertise include descriptive analysis, consumer acceptance, discrimination tests, sensory shelf-life, ranking, concept tests, and more. The Sensory Center also does extensive consulting work with various clients – whether they be a food company, private research corporation, or researchers from CFANS or other universities – anyone can come to them with the question they want answered, or with a specific test in mind. Either way, they can work together to design an appropriate test. From evaluating dozens of new CFANS ciders, apples, and grapes to working with the Plant Protein Innovation Center and innumerable other projects, the FScN Sensory Center has been a keystone to food and agriculture in Minnesota.

2). At the upcoming Unconventional Ag event, you will host a "Plant-based Chicken Taste and Sensory Panel". Can you please explain what will happen during this session?

We will begin with an overview of challenges facing consumer acceptability of plant-based meat analogs, then narrow to descriptive analysis of textures, then to texture descriptors related to chicken analogs. We will describe how we build a vocabulary for these textures.

We will then lead a tasting of chicken, plus several chicken analogs, prepared from a variety of protein sources. We will guide participants through the vocabulary, provide examples of references illustrating some of the attributes, and have participants rate the intensities of each of the attributes for each of the products.

3). Why would you say this session is important for attendees? What will they learn and gain in knowledge?

Participants will learn a texture vocabulary and practice rating specific texture attributes, which are useful for describing meat and meat analogs. They will be more aware of the process of obtaining sensory measurements that are useful for describing differences between products. They will be more aware of sensory textural attributes that are not adequately measured by instrumental techniques.

About Unconventional Ag

The 8th annual Unconventional Ag event (formerly titled Organic & Non-GMO Forum), which will take place November 29-30 at the Hyatt Minneapolis, includes topics such as an outlook of the organic and non-GMO marketplace with Mercaris; a discussion on storage, logistics and the power of strategic distribution from JZ Trucking, Inc. & High Caliber Transloading and Storage; and sowing the seeds of confidence from farm and fork with the Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance (SSGA). This unique event welcomes attendees from across the ag supply chain: farmers, grain handlers, processors, food marketers, equipment and technology providers and more. Visit for more info.


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Contact Lynda Kiernan-Stone,

editor of Unconventional Ag News, to submit a story for consideration:

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