The demand for plant-based products – which offer a healthy, more sustainable and more eco-friendly alternative to dairy – has risen over the last few years, as the global population has begun to value the production of sustainable products. The most common plant sources for dairy alternatives are soya, almonds, oats, rice and coconut, but other plant-based milks are also gaining popularity, such as cashew, peas, hemp and flaxseeds. However, there are specific nuances to almond milk production equipment versus rice milk production equipment, etcetera. The production of dairy alternatives can be highly variable in the production process. For example, a heat exchanger for oat milk processing may require a different rate of heat transfer to produce a competitive product in comparison to a heat exchanger used for coconut milk production.
Plant-based milk production equipment can be custom designed for optimal production, clean in place systems (CIP) and for product quality, based on the specifics of the customer's product. SPX FLOW application engineers are available to strategize with customers on the precise construction of optimized production line equipment for dairy alternatives.
The process for making plant-based fermented products depends on the raw material selected. Soya bean processing for example, requires blanching and then grinding. While the processes for rice and oat production involve enzymatic reactions prior to grinding. For grinding, SPX FLOW offers a wide range of mixtures to select from, depending on the duty and function required. The slurry created by the grinding process equipment is then subjected to fiber separation and heat treatment.
Heat treatment is a critical step for various reasons. Apart from very important bacteriological critical control point, this step also contributes to stop enzymatic activities. SPX FLOW has in its portfolio a comprehensive range of thermal processing solutions, backed by 1,000+ references and more than 50 years of experience. The technologies include direct heating, such as infusion or injection, or indirect heating including tubular, plate or scraped surface heat exchangers designed for soya, almonds, oats, rice and coconut, but other plant-based milks.
The heat-treated plant-based juice obtained by the various processes above can be used for a variety of fermented products. As this field is still emerging and offers potential to many producers, SPX FLOW offers a testing facility at its two innovation centers in Silkeborg, Denmark and at ENIL University, Mamirolle France.
Traceability and up-to-mark CIP protocol is another primary requirement and forms another area of expertise within SPX FLOW. The two areas where cross-contamination can occur are mixing and CIP stations. As a result, separation of those areas is critical! Some process equipment, including heat treatment, can be used by both dairy and plant-based lines. This gives manufacturers the opportunity to run both dairy and non-dairy products in the same plant. The major equipment elements remain the same, with just the temperature parameters and bacteria culture differing. As each different plant-based raw material possesses different compositions – in terms of carbohydrates, proteins, lipid profile etc. – the culture or enzyme chosen requires specific know-how and the testing of recipes, collecting samples and checking market adaptability might be needed.
The use of plant-based ingredients in fresh dairy products requires a thorough understanding of the plant composition. SPX FLOW offers highly detailed rice in milk production testing at the ENIL Innovation Center in Mamirolle, France.
Pranav Shah, Process Category Director – Fresh Dairy at SPX FLOW, said: “We are working proactively to develop new products and solutions. The tests we have been carrying out include the ultraclean production of rice in milk. We have also designed an aseptic process using an ultra-high temperature (UHT). This creates product that can be transported and stored at ambient temperatures, which increases market opportunities due to extended shelf life.”
Adding rice to milk requires washing steps to reduce starch levels from the rice. It then needs to be cooked sufficiently to reduce bacterial load and mixed with the milk to produce a stable, homogenous and tasty product. Although much of the technology used is already utilized in other dairy processes, the use of plant-based ingredients requires new process parameters to be determined. It is critical that the product maintains its quality throughout its shelf life, tasting as good as it did on the day it was produced. This requires stability tests and shelf-life studies to be carried out and, as the products are designed as ‘healthy alternatives’, clean label production requires that desired longevity of the product is achieved without the use of stabilizers, emulsifiers, artificial flavors or colors.
The ultra-clean rice in milk process tested at ENIL starts with standardization, heat treatment and homogenization of the raw milk. At the same time as the milk is being treated, the rice is washed and then cooked in a specially designed cooker. Once these process steps are completed, the rice is added into the milk and it undergoes a final heat treatment stage, using equipment designed for high viscosity fluids. The process is a continuous one and is configured to optimize production efficiency with low losses and short clean in place (CIP) cycles.
Performing tests at an SPX FLOW test and Innovation Centers gives the manufacturer access to know-how and industry best-practices from SPX FLOW, while doing it in their own premises keeps intellectual property in-house. SPX FLOW can offer a small scale multipurpose plant, that is a plug and play skid-based plant with capacity of around 150-300 kg/hr at very affordable market price. These small-scale production plants, along with larger commercial plants, are optimized in terms of their sustainable energy footprint and layout, and offer the flexibility, MES compatibility and traceability required by many customers. Each design prioritizes taste, mouthfeel, nutrition, digestibility, visual appearance, yield and economy.=