KANSAS CITY — Consumers seeking to follow animal-free or dairy-free diets have opened opportunities for plant-based milk alternatives. Toronto-based market researcher Technavio forecasts the global dairy alternatives market to have a compound annual growth rate of almost 10% from 2020-24.
Oats are an option as they have a distinct advantage over soy and almonds: They are not one of the eight major allergens listed by the US Food and Drug Administration. Financial backing has entered the oat-based category, too. Blackstone Growth and other investors such as Howard Schultz, former chief executive officer of Starbucks, and Oprah Winfrey last year invested $200 million in Oatly, a maker of oat-based products.
When exploring oat-based milk alternatives, formulators should know about the processing techniques used on the oats and how to solve taste issues. Oat’s flavor is not as neutral as almond’s, said Darren Schubert, vice president of sales and marketing, western operations, for Grain Millers, Inc., Junction City, Ore.
“It really opened consumers’ eyes to try these different products,” he said of almond-based milk alternatives. “It’s a nice neutral-based product.”
Increasing the percentage of solids in oat-based milk alternatives helps with the mouthfeel, he said. Hydrolyzation is beneficial, too.
“Certainly, that is where you see a lot of these very popular oat milks,” Mr. Schubert said. “They’ve been hydrolyzed. It mellows out that grassiness. It creates a more drinkable product.”
Micro-ground oat bran could be used as part of a formula for plant-based milk alternatives but not as a complete replacement, said Rajen Mehta, PhD, senior director for specialty ingredients for Grain Millers. Low-viscosity oat flours replace all the dairy solids and commonly are used in plant-based milk alternatives.
“There is a slight ‘oaty’ flavor, but now there are technologies by which processing conditions and working with flavor companies allows almost the complete elimination of the oaty flavor, and actually it has a pleasant, sweet character,” Dr. Mehta said. “Thus, even if there is a slight residual oaty character, it is not objectionable.”
While oats are gluten-free, they may become contaminated by gluten-containing grains in the supply chain. Oats from Grain Millers are certified as having gluten at less than 10 parts per million, which is lower than the US Food and Drug Administration limit of less than 20 ppm to qualify as gluten-free.
Like oats, chickpeas are not a major allergen. ChickP Ltd., a startup based in Rehovot, Israel, offers chickpea isolates designed for plant-based dairy alternatives. The plant protein was developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Technology extracts up to 90% of the protein in the chickpea seed. Due to its high solubility and smooth viscosity, the ingredient forms an emulsion/gel that helps contribute to a firm finished product.
The ChickP protein has a neutral flavor, which reduces the need for sugar or flavor additives in the milk alternatives, according to the company.