Unlocking the Secret to Meaty Plant-Based Foods: It's All in the Onions

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The Magic Behind Meaty Plant-Based Foods: Fermented Onions!

Ever wondered how to make your plant-based burger taste just like a juicy beef patty? The answer might be simpler than you think: onions. But not just any onions, we're talking about fermented onions!

The Quest for the Perfect Meaty Flavor

Plant-based alternatives like tempeh and bean burgers have been a hit among those wanting to cut down on their meat intake. Yet, the challenge has always been replicating that distinct meaty flavor and aroma without resorting to synthetic additives. Many companies have tried and failed, but a recent breakthrough might just have the answer we've all been waiting for.

The Science of Savory Scents

A study published in the ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has unveiled a potential game-changer: fermenting onions, chives, and leeks. When these veggies are fermented with common fungi, they produce natural chemicals that mimic the savory scents of meat. This means we could be on the brink of having plant-based meats that smell and taste just like the real thing, without any artificial additives!

How Does It Work?

When food producers aim to make plant-based alternatives taste meatier, they often resort to precursor ingredients found in meats. These ingredients transform into flavor agents during cooking. However, many of these flavorings are synthetically processed, which means they can't be labeled as "natural" in many countries.

Enter YanYan Zhang and her team of researchers. They experimented with fermenting various fungal species with different foods. The result? Meaty aromas were only produced from foods in the Allium family, like onions and leeks. The standout was an 18-hour fermentation of onion using the fungus Polyporus umbellatus. This concoction produced a scent reminiscent of liver sausage. Further analysis revealed the presence of chemicals responsible for various meat flavors, including bis(2-methyl-3-furyl) disulfide, a potent odorant in meaty foods.

The Future of Plant-Based Meats

With this discovery, the future looks promising for plant-based meat alternatives. Imagine biting into a veggie burger that not only tastes but also smells just like a beef burger. Thanks to the high sulfur content in alliums, which contributes to meat-flavored compounds, this dream might soon be a reality.

Wrapping Up

So, the next time you're grilling up a plant-based feast, remember the secret ingredient: fermented onions. It's a small step for onions but a giant leap for plant-based cuisine!


  • American Chemical Society. "Making plant-based meat more 'meaty' -- with fermented onions." ScienceDaily, 5 September 2023. Link

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