Protein developments

finalIn its snapshot of this year’s Sustainable Foods Summit, organiser Organic Monitor reported that, during last year’s World Climate Summit (COP21) it was concluded that food generates a quarter of all greenhouse gases, with over half coming from livestock production. At the same time, population growth and dietary changes have led to a substantial rise in meat and dairy consumption over the past two decades.

The FAO expects meat consumption to double by 2050 when the global population is projected to reach nine billion. Therefore, a shift towards sustainable proteins is deemed necessary if the food industry is to lower its environmental impacts. Plant-based proteins are considered part of the solution, with investment pouring into new enterprises that have developed innovative meat and dairy analogues.

So critical is the issue that leading international businesses and NGOs have formed The Protein Challenge 2040, the world’s first collaboration across the protein system that aims to address the question: How can we feed nine billion people enough protein in a way that is healthy, affordable and good for the environment?

Facilitated by the non-profit Forum for the Future, The Protein Challenge 2040 coalition is founded by leading NGOs including WWF and GAIN, retailers Target and Waitrose, dairy nutrition firm Volac, taste and flavour expert Firmenich, as well as food manufacturers The Hershey Company and Quorn. It is the first partnership that brings together representatives from animal, plant and alternative protein industries to understand the protein system’s challenges, identify a common way forward and come up with new solutions together.

Through in-depth research and work with food, nutrition, health and technology experts across the world, the coalition has mapped the interrelationships within the entire protein system for the first time. It has pinpointed six areas for innovation, which the group will take immediate action on to meet future demand sustainably.

The coalition is now looking for additional partners with resources, expertise and drive to take action in these areas together.

In its recent report ‘The rise of plant protein: Opportunities to capitalise on the protein trend using plant alternatives to meat and dairy’, Canadean confirms that plant protein sources such as soy, pea and nuts are growing in popularity to meet our voracious ongoing demand for protein.

‘Asian countries show the highest positive consumer uptake (of vegetable-based proteins) as their diets already consist of many plant proteins such as tofu and soy,’ confirms the report, which stresses that meat avoidance is also growing for various health, financial, sustainability, and ethical reasons. At the same time, there is insatiable demand for protein, creating opportunities for companies to incorporate plant-based sources into food and beverages in place of animal-derived ingredients.

EHL Ingredients sales director Tasneem Backhouse confirms that ‘it’s all about protein this year!’

“High protein diets were the runaway success of 2015, with devotees embracing the benefits of eating larger amounts of protein and fewer carbohydrates – a trend which is set to continue into 2016 and beyond. We have seen increases in sales for our protein-packed ingredients such as seeds, nuts and grains,” said Tasneem.

Industry figures from Kantar show that sales of nuts have risen by 6.6%, which echoes EHL’s own sales figures. The most popular nuts sold by EHL are now almonds and walnuts.

Ancient grains such as Freekeh are also growing in popularity, according to Tasneem, who said: “Grains such as quinoa have paved the way for other, lesser known products, and Freekeh has proven popular with EHL’s customers. A staple of Middle Eastern cuisine for centuries, Freekeh has a smoky, nutty flavour, but absorbs flavours well. It’s a great addition to chicken or vegetable dishes. It’s low in fat, and – again – high in protein.”

The Almond Board of California (ABC) highlights that recent studies have found that snacking on almonds, which are a natural source of protein, can also boost satiety and result in reduced calorie intake for the rest of the day. Plus, new research from Innova Market Insights shows that almonds are the number one nut in new food products worldwide, with launches featuring almonds having grown 148% since 2005.

According to AB, some of the primary reasons for these positive statistics are the versatility and added value of almonds as snacks and inclusions. When compared gram for gram, almonds are the tree nut highest in protein, fibre, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin and are among the lowest in calories, it says. The protein level is significantly above that of most other tree nuts at 6g per
30g serving.

Ingredient launches

To meet the increased demand for plant-based protein ingredients, ingredient supplier Cambridge Commodities has launched a range of high quality vegan proteins. The ProEarth range consists of black bean, almond, cranberry, buckwheat, hemp, pumpkin seed and quinoa powders with protein content ranging from 20% to 80%.

Extracted from superfoods, ProEarth vegan proteins are clean label, often allergen-free and easily digestible due to their fibre content. Plant protein sources can provide a full profile of amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids, connecting with key drivers of health-conscious consumers.

Cambridge Commodities research and development nutritionist Emma Cattell commented: “The ProEarth range is the next generation of vegan proteins, beyond the traditional soy, pea and rice. Vegan proteins have a host of other benefits in addition to protein including being rich in vitamins and minerals, more natural, less processed, environmentally friendly and ethical.”

Highlighting pea proteins as a particularly dynamic source of innovation currently,

PGP International uses advanced extrusion technology to produce a High-Protein crisp from pea proteins that is totally free of hexane and allergens and perfect for a wide range of applications such as energy bars, nutrition-rich food, cereals, snacks and confections.

Recent studies reveal that pea protein may yield health benefits that promote a sense of fullness and stimulate the body’s peptide production, abating the feelings of hunger. High Protein Crisps suit manufacturers looking for high quality ingredients for their consumer products that are rich in protein, tasty and allergen-free.

Nizo has been looking at several pea protein developments.

Common issues with commercial plant proteins are their low solubility and off-taste, according to Nizo experts, who studied these issues and created new opportunities with green pea proteins. The protein extracts were dried and spray dried under different conditions (heat loads), using freeze drying as reference. These optimised extraction and drying processes not only affected the degree of denaturation and solubility of the pea protein powder, but also had a beneficial impact on the flavour/taste profile.

Further protein activity includes research into how the technical functionality of blends of proteins in terms of texture and foaming or emulsifying properties may be higher than for individual proteins. In particular, Nizo showed that mixtures of soy and gelatine form a bicontinuous system in which the two proteins form two independent protein networks.

Nizo has also developed usable, functional and tasty fibrous plant proteins that can be used in vegetarian products, fish substitutes and savoury bakery products. Using a special treatment, the functionality and efficacy of the fibrous proteins are maintained and are now being scaled up for mass production. The resulting taste and texture (mouthfeel) of the fibrous proteins is unique with excellent juiciness and bite, according to Nizo, which has worked with Ruitenberg to develop the industrial production process for the fibrous plant proteins.

Drawing on pulses, researchers from Wageningen University have developed a meat substitute that they say has the bite of real meat.

To produce this ‘plant-based beef’, the researchers from Food Process Engineering used Shear Cell Technology, with which it is possible to mould plant material until it has the fibre structure of a beefsteak. The new technology was first used to make fibres from dairy proteins. Processing plant-based proteins in pulses such as soya beans is a lot more complex but the researchers managed to identify the mechanisms by which plant proteins form structures.

The new technique is not limited in format so it can be used to make more products besides familiar little stir-fry pieces. Working with colleagues from the Technical University of Delft, the Wageningen researchers have built a prototype machine that could produce plant-based meat cuts of several kilos. Eventually local butchers should be able to produce the meat substitute themselves, and will just need to use natural flavourings to give the product flavour. Key partners in the study are The Vegetarian Butcher and the Peas Foundation.

GoodMills Innovation has introduced two new products for the meat alternative sector. Wheat texturates in the form of flakes will allow for the creation of vegetarian and vegan dishes, minced meat substitutes as well as bakery and snack fillings; while, YePea (toasted pea meal) offers a non-GMO and allergen-free alternative to
soy grits.

The extruded wheatmeat flakes are characterised by their high water binding capacity and are especially suitable for adding texture and structure to bakery and snack fillings as well as for the production of meat-free hamburger patties. Based on high-protein wheat fractions, the flakes can achieve end products with up to 76% protein.

YePea (an abbreviation of yellow pea) is derived from the yellow-podded snow pea. This almost forgotten legume is an alternative to soy grits, which are often used in baking mixes, bread recipes and small baked goods to improve texture. The toasted and coarsely ground peas enhance water binding capacity and provide a soft texture. 

Product launches

In the US, Impossible Foods was founded five years ago and has dedicated itself to developing a new generation of delicious and sustainable meats made from plants.

By looking at animal products at the molecular level, then selecting specific proteins and nutrients from greens, seeds, and grains to recreate the complex experience of meat and dairy products, Impossible Foods hopes to replicate the work that animals have done for years of transforming plants into proteins: meat, milk, cheese and eggs.

The first Impossible Burger is scheduled to appear in the market during 2016. After launch in the US, the company plans to expand its production capacity and make the burgers and future products available further afield!


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