The use of alternative proteins is seen as a perfect solution for a sustainable food production system. As the current world population is rising, our current animal production system will not suffice. Hence, ingredient companies are on a quest to find alternative plant proteins. Consumers are actively trying to eat more of plant proteins or a blend of animal and plant proteins due to the additional benefits they offer, like muscle health support, improved digestion, and weight control. They are, however, not willing to compromise on taste and texture. They want it to be as transparent and sustainable as possible.
This article focusses on neutral plant protein sources and applications in food and beverages.
Neutral plant proteins
Protein Source and their applications
Plant proteins are derived from cereal and legume crops. They are offered in both whole and fractionated forms. Various approaches, including physical, chemical, and biological methods, are adopted to meet key industry parameters like neutral color, odor, and taste. Some proteins meet these challenges and are finding their niche in the neutral protein space. A few of these are discussed herewith.
Faba beans are a natural choice for manufacturers seeking alternate proteins due to their neutral color and good texture. They are also better suited for the environment, unlike Soy. Based on a study by Danish scientists, fava beans offered the greatest potential to be used as a protein powder on comparison to lentils, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa.
The nutritional profile of Faba beans is incredibly dense. They are an excellent source of Folate (folic acid), providing 106% of the RDA in 100g. They are also a rich source of Iron and other minerals like magnesium, manganese, copper, potassium, etc. They are low in color and offer clean neutral flavor without any aftertaste, unlike other pulse protein sources.
Hemp seed protein has around 70% protein, with all nine essential amino acids. However, hemp seeds are green colored, making them unsuitable for finished products.
It is the hemp hearts obtained after dehulling the seed, which provides the neutral flavor and near white color, providing a significant formulation advantage over other plant proteins. Hemp hearts are nutritional powerhouses, full of proteins, amino acids, and fatty acids.
Chickpea Protein is appealing to manufacturers because they are very light in color, with the flavor profile being very neutral, hence, providing formulators with many applications across the categories.
Nutriati states chickpea to be a foundational ingredient in many applications. Their chickpea milk is very white in color while being smooth and silky in texture. Masking agents are not needed because of the neutrality in flavor.
Certain advantageous factors which place chickpeas in a position to replace Soy or Pea include:
- Potential to draw Nitrogen directly from the atmosphere so farmers do not have to buy large amounts of Nitrogen fertilizer
- Very efficient source o protein compared to rival proteins requiring much lesser water, energy and pesticides than rival proteins
- Non-allergenic and Non-GMO
Several other companies in the Chickpea protein sector include Israeli company ChickP, which produces 90% protein isolates for use in dairy alternatives. Another Israeli startup, InnovoPro has boosted production of its 70% chickpea protein concentrate, which is already in use in Europe, Israel, and the United States.
Brands like Hippeas and Biena Snacks are using chickpeas in snack products.
Upcoming Neutral Proteins
Sunflower proteins can offer a promising light-colored protein, as depicted in a number of research studies. One such study is represented here in brief:
2 mol/L NaCl solution was used for the extraction of protein isolates from sunflowers. Protein isolates obtained were of high purity and light in color. The study demonstrated the feasibility of the process on a pilot plant scale.
Extraction and Processing challenges
Selecting proteins capable of overcoming processing and extraction challenges matters to ingredient manufacturers deliver the optimal sensory perception of plant proteins to consumers.
Several challenges are faced during ingredient processing. Some include:-
- Deterioration of flavor and Decrease in Solubility- Improving our understanding of their impact on the quality and functionality of proteins will enable us to adjust the production process and develop ingredients that offer optimal sensory profiles. By adapting critical conventional steps for extraction and spray drying, it is possible to maintain functional properties for specific applications.
- Meeting consumer demand- When it comes to meeting customer demands like satiety potentials, whey proteins are seen as a promising option. It hardly increases in viscosity in the stomach and is degraded easily, thus rapidly available for consumption.
- Impact on processing parameter- A processing challenge is while dealing with the impact of product properties on processing conditions. Products with a high content of carbohydrates and proteins are stickier and tend to result in blocking of the dryer by forming lumps of powder. Improved process control can minimize fouling, extend the time between clean-in-place procedures, and avoid blockages.
- Unappealing Color- Protein preparations have a characteristic intrinsic color, which limits them to certain applications. Several companies are focusing on neutral versions of plant proteins to make use of them aesthetically for application.
Product ranges utilizing these neutral plant proteins have also been covered in a later section.
Products in the market
- Faba-tein ™ is a protein isolate (90%) derived from faba beans. The product finds its use in vegan food applications for its unique gelling properties, water retention capacities, high protein level and savory flavor profile.
- Pisiva ® Pea Protein provides a clean, neutral flavor profile. Due to its amino acid profile content and high protein concentration, it provides good protein source for vegans and vegetarians.
- Axiom Foods is offering Cannatein® Hemp Protein provides a highly concentrated hemp protein with a light color and long shelf life. It is non-GMO, suspendable, highly dispersible and digestible. Its applications include beverages, bars, yogurts, crunchy snacks and cereals.
- Good Catch Foods is a US-based innovative startup that develops plant-based seafood alternatives. The proprietary six-legume blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans, and navy beans delivers protein and a texture that resembles the exact flakiness of seafood. Algae oil provides seafood flavor and omega-3s. The company’s products are currently available in the US in supermarkets such as the Whole Foods Market and Fairway.
- Parabel USA unveiled a beige-colored protein hydrolysate from water lentils suitable for a wide range of applications. Parabel mentions the advantage of water lentil over other plant protein sources to the fact that they grow rapidly in water.
- AFS Hemp ™ offers V-70 ™ Hemp Heart Protein above other plant proteins. The color and flavor are neutral helping in maintaining the appearance and aesthetic appeal of the product. With a 70% protein content offering, it satisfies protein targets with a serving size of 28.5gms. Due to its high water-binding capacity, it emulsifies with exceptional performance.