Alternative For Soy: Innovative Plant Proteins From Domestic Sources

heap of broad beans isolated on white

The current trends in the food market, health and well-being and increasing consciousness on the part of consumers regarding sustainability of food production creates a need for new domestic plant-based protein ingredients.

In addition, sustainable and efficient exploitation of side-streams from the primary production and food industry requires novel production technologies and business models. There is also a governmental push to increase protein self-sufficiency at both the EU and national level in Finland.

VTT has focused on the utilization of the domestic European plant raw materials and side streams such as faba beans, oats, barley, cereal brans and oil press cakes for protein extraction. All these raw material sources have a natural image, are GMO free and their extraction steps are simple and green consisting of mechanical fractionation and further bioprocessing.

Soy dominates the market

The global plant protein market is currently dominated by soy-derived proteins with over 50% share of the market. Today, 200 000 tons of soy is imported on an annual basis, the most of which is used as feed.

Imported soy protein could easily be compensated by recovered losses of the grain chain and domestic protein crops, since at the same time 150 000 tons of cereals and bread is lost as loss in production and as biowaste. Other alternative plant protein sources include legumes, oil crops and their side streams as well as grass for livestock feeding.

New methods to improve the quality of plant proteins

Plant proteins are typically entrapped within the cell matrix, which hinders their bioavailability and performance as food ingredients. Entrapment and interactions with other cell components also reduce the efficiency of protein extraction from the fibrous matrix.

Other limitations for food ingredient use of protein from plant materials and their side streams are the presence of anti-nutritional factors in the raw materials, and inferior techno-, nutritional and sensory functionalities of the proteins compared to animal-based proteins.

Based on sophisticated combinations of bioprocessing, thermo-mechanical processing, wet or dry fractionation and supercritical carbon dioxide (SC-CO2) extraction technologies, VTT has developed fractionation and extraction methods to concentrate protein from plant materials and their side-streams into fractions having improved nutritional, techno-functional and sensory properties. One key target has been development of multi-functional protein ingredients via minimal processing technologies.

Tools for better applicability

The newly developed plant protein ingredients have been applied to diverse food matrices covering liquid (e.g. drinks), semi-solid (e.g. puddings, gels) and solid (e.g. pasta, bread, extrudates) applications.

VTT has two approaches to improve the applicability of the protein ingredients in such foods: 1) modification of the protein functionality in situ by, e.g. bioprocessing, and 2) direct modification of protein ingredients by controlled hydrolysis, mechanical modification, or crosslinking of proteins by enzymes.

Hybrid processing consisting of milling, air classification and fermentation significantly reduced the major antinutritional factors (e.g. vicine, convicine, trypsin inhibitor, condensed tannins) in faba bean protein concentrate by 40 to 90% depending on the component. Fermentation further improved the solubility particularly around the pH range of minimal solubility (3–5). Foam formation and stability (after fermentation) was improved to levels even higher than the benchmarking pea protein concentrate (overrun 600% vs 200%).

Dry and wet fractionation technologies have proven useful for valorization of rapeseed cold-press cake, a side-stream from high-quality food oil production. Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, milling and air classification yielded a light-coloured protein-rich powder (46% protein) showing high dispersion stability after microfluidization and transglutaminase treatment.

In the wet fractionation approach, water extraction assisted by carbohydrate-hydrolysing enzymes produced protein-sugar extracts exhibiting lighter colour and better protein solubility and dispersion stability than conventional alkaline extraction, at the same time with a similar yield and estimated production costs.


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