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    Plant-based drinks: Krones is focusing on oats

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    Depending on the ingredient base and the type of equipment used, there are different options for making oat drinks. Krones offers customers three process variants.
    • Krones offers various process options for making oat drinks.

    What is actually behind the hype about plant-based-drinks? And how are these popular non-dairy products made? You will find the answer to the first question in a separate article, and a description of the various process options for making milk alternatives in the text below.

    Plant -based drinks: healthy, sustainable milk alternatives

    Click here to read Part 1 of the article.

    Krones has focused especially on the production of drinks based on grains such as oats and can offer customers three process variants. The main differences lie in the ingredient base and in the type of equipment used.


    Variant 1: manufacture from ready-to-use oat base 

    This option enables customers to get started in the plant-based drinks business instantly. Much like soft drink production, the oat base used comes in a liquid form that can simply be purchased from suppliers. It is then blended with any additional ingredients such as stabilizers, aromas, or fats to achieve the desired consistency and flavor nuances. Incidentally, this step is common to all three options. 

    The blending itself is done in standard process tanks, which are already on hand in the syrup rooms of many beverage plants. “That is precisely why this option is ideal for companies wanting to quickly give the production of oat drinks a try without needing to invest in new equipment,” explains Stefan Höller. The disadvantage is that the base is usually relatively expensive, making this option the most costly over the long term.


    Variant 2: manufacture from oatmeal

    A more affordable option is to use oat meal. This variant is also suitable for getting started quickly since it likewise uses common process tanks for blending. It does require a disperser (such as a vacuum mixer) for dissolving the oat meal in water. The difference between this process and variant 1 is that this first step requires the addition of not only water but also enzymes that catalyze hydrolysis (more on this in the info box). After that, the solids simply have to be separated from the liquids in a decanter, which will also need to be installed. The resulting “base” can then be blended to create the final product. The ideal target group for this option is customers who want to get a quick start making mid-range volumes of oat-based beverages with little investment. Dairies and other companies that have experience in product manufacture can meet some of the equipment needs with technology they already have on hand.

    Should customers require support getting started with plant-based drinks production or any equipment for the syrup room or product treatment, the Milkron team is the ideal partner. The Process Technology team at Krones also completes these types of project worldwide (while Milkron operates primarily within Europe) – and collaborates closely with Milkron as needed.


    Variant 3: manufacture from whole oat grains or flakes

    The third option is the high-end version. It involves the biggest investment in new equipment but is ultimately worth it in terms of both product quality and the considerable potential for energy savings. But let’s begin at the beginning: This option also uses oat meal (which can be milled fresh on site, of course) and enzymes. But instead of a disperser, this process uses specially designed enzyme tanks that are based on the mashing technology used in brewing beer. So, naturally, our subsidiary Steinecker is involved for this option. 

    Yes, you read that right. Our brewery specialists are applying their beer-making expertise to plant-based drinks. It actually makes perfect sense since the processes have a lot in common: Like barley or wheat, oats are grains that are milled and then vigorously blended with water and, later, with enzymes and other ingredients, in a special hydrolysis tank (which we’ll call the “enzyme tank” below),  to create a homogeneous liquid. The pillow plates and integrated vibration units in the tank ensure that everything is heated evenly and the soluble components of the oats are extracted with the utmost efficiency. 

    Besides high extract yields and product quality, these enzyme tanks offer another significant advantage: great potential for energy savings. The specially shaped, interior heat exchanger surface makes heat transfer so efficient that the temperature of the heating media can be reduced dramatically and hot water can be used instead of steam. As a result, the energy recovered during the cooling process can be used for the next heating cycle.

    Hydrolysis – the details

    The starches in the oats have to be dissolved for enzymatic hydrolysis to occur, ultimately defining the sweetness and consistency of the finished product. As in the making of pudding or sauces, the mixture first becomes viscous. With the use of different enzymes, the gelatinized starches are then liquefied and converted to sugars, which in turn gives the finished product a balance of sweetness, mouth-feel, and yield. In this way, the sweetness of the finished beverage can be influenced without adding any sweetener.

    The subsequent heat treatment is exactly the same as for cow’s milk: The finished product runs through a  VarioAsept UHT system with an integrated aseptic homogenizer from HST. And then the product is ready for aseptic filling, for instance on a line from the Contiform AseptBloc family.

    Krones process technology: a powerful trio

    So why exactly are so many companies jumping into plant-based drinks? For one, the market offers great potential for the near future. For another, it’s easy for anyone to start up production quickly – for dairies that want to establish an alternative income source using plant-based products; for start-ups consciously seeking to provide vegan alternatives to milk; and for all other beverage producers wanting to test the waters of the market as lateral entrants.

    What every one of them needs, though, is a suitable partner. And Krones’ Process Technology team is perfect for that. Together, Krones, Milkron, and Steinecker make for a powerful trio that is able to meet any and all customer needs in terms of process, equipment, and project fulfillment – not only with process expertise and engineering services but also with dedicated technological solutions that are designed to work perfectly together.

    Image 28131
    Krones’ Process Technology team has a wide range and depth of expertise on all aspects of producing oat drinks and other milk alternatives.

    Pilot plant times two

    To best support our customers right from the recipe development stage and initial product tests, we have two pilot plants in place: The Steinecker Brew Center is equipped for running all of the tests relating to the quality and texture of the oat meal, the proper amounts of water, and especially the interaction with various enzymes in order to ensure the desired results. From there, the finished oat base can then be transported to Neutraubling, where we expect to be able to run tests on all subsequent processes from fall 2022 onward – from blending to making the products shelf-stable and even to filling test batches.

    Article 28309
    Steinecker Brew Center in Freising

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