For 35 years, IKEA restaurant visitors have enjoyed the iconic Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam. Five years ago IKEA added both veggie balls and chicken balls to the range and in 2018 the salmon and cod ball was introduced. Soon a new variation will be added to the family — one that tastes and looks like a traditional meatball but is made with plant-based alternative proteins. Susanne Österberg, Product Quality Leader at IKEA, likes to call it a “meat analogue”.
“A meat analogue product is very similar to a meat product, but it is actually vegetarian or vegan. Only by looking at it, or even tasting it, you will not be able to tell that it isn´t made from meat,” says Susanne.
A growing number of people prefer a flexitarian diet, with an increased intake of plant-based meals without eliminating meat. Susanne is no exception, she also wants to reduce her meat consumption without being neither vegetarian nor vegan. She knows that taste and texture is important when creating an appetizing alternative to the traditional Swedish meatball. The development team tried several combinations, did many tastings and visited many suppliers before they decided on an IKEA unique recipe.
“In this case, we focused on using ingredients that have been used in Sweden historically and still are commonly used today. That is how we ended up with both yellow pea protein, potato, onion, oats and apple in the recipe,” says Susanne.
Susanne Österberg, Product Quality Leader at IKEA.
Why yellow peas?
“When we started looking into developing the plant ball, we tried many different types of vegetable proteins. We really wanted to avoid putting allergens in the product, and since soy is an allergen, we decided against it. Another new and upcoming protein source is lupin, but due to the same reasoning around allergens, this was also ruled out. Pea protein caught our attention early due to its “Swedishness”. Yellow peas are commonly grown in Sweden and are also used in traditional yellow pea soup. Pea soup has a long tradition of being served on Thursdays followed by pancakes as dessert,” says Susanne.
How are the peas used in the plant balls?
“The pea protein is separated from mashed yellow peas and then extruded. A bit simplified, you can say that the peas are pressed through a small hole under high pressure. This alters the structure of the protein and makes it more meat-like,” says Susanne.
Yellow pea protein, potato, onion, apple and oat bran rolled into a ball.
You also use apple. Why?
“Proteins can be a bit bitter in taste, and to balance out the flavours something sweet usually helps. Apple was a perfect choice given that it gives the perfect sweetness, and it is also very Swedish to use apples. And then the seasoning – including salt, pepper, and allspice – balances the different ingredients and helps to recreate the taste profile of a traditional IKEA meatball.”
Will the IKEA plant balls be the same all over the world?
“Yes, we want people to have the same plant ball experience everywhere. That goes for all of our products really. Even if we have different suppliers, we work with the same ingredients, but that can sometimes be a challenge. As a global food company, we need to develop products that are compliant with legislation in 52 different markets. What is considered an allergen in Europe, might not be an allergen in the Asia-Pacific region, for example – or the other way around. Sometimes we have to make small tweaks to a product due to these local requirements – but we never compromise on taste or product experience.”
Susanne and her colleagues trying one of the supplier’s IKEA plant ball.
How do you prefer to eat the plant ball?
“Growing up in Sweden, meatballs are part of everyday meals, and my mother usually served them with boiled potatoes, lingonberry jam and cream sauce. I am still a big fan of the traditional meatball dish – but if I get to choose, serving it with mash is so much better! With plant balls instead of meatballs, it also becomes a more sustainable choice, so that is a win-win!” says Susanne.
The new plant ball will be in IKEA stores starting from August 2020 – served in IKEA restaurants and also sold in the Swedish Food Market.