New plant sources are coming to the fore while some are moving away from soy

14 Dec 2022 — Faced with a multitude of intertwined trends, preferences and macro influences, food brands will need to be flexible, forward thinking, agile and fast to continue to thrive in the alternative protein sector. Industry suppliers are now seeing signs of an end to sales growth in the sector, after enjoying strong consumer interest in recent years.

FoodIngredientsFirst talks to key ingredient experts to explore the changing landscape of animal-free protein development, where producers are looking to new sources like canola while consumers are losing appetite for contested crops like soybeans.

Samah Garringer, director of the Proteins of the Future business unit at DSM, tells us about the three main forces at work in the development of the protein sector that have weighed on it recently.

“[These are] consumer dissatisfaction with the nutritional value, taste and texture of some existing plant proteins, a closer examination of the sustainability credentials of ingredients and finally, a focus on supporting health and well-being through nutrition.”

“As a result, sales growth is slowing down in the herbal products sector,” she points out. “In order to achieve continued growth, something needs to be done to win consumers over with protein alternatives that deliver a winning formula of taste, texture and health.”

Expect more from the label
These above challenges are compounded by greater scrutiny of labels, with consumers increasingly looking for value and product quality, Garringer continues.

For example, “good source of protein” is the number one attribute that U.S. consumers look for when shopping for plant-based products, she notes.

Indeed, the debate over whether plant-based proteins are comparable to meat and dairy-based offerings still resurfaces. However, scientists from Unilever and Wageningen University and Research, in the Netherlands, recently found that processed soy has a slightly better nutritional profile than its parent ingredient, soy.

Unilever points out that this is contrary to the views of many in the food industry that processed soy is not as valuable as a source of protein. Even so, Garringer explains, “We’re seeing soy lose consumer favor for a number of reasons, including concerns about allergens, GMOs, hormones and environmental issues.”

“Consumers are looking for alternatives, such as pea protein which has become another dominant, however it is not easy from a nutritional or functional perspective to replace soy in the application.”

From an environmental angle, soy has also been labeled a “self-defeating crop,” with its monoculture straining tropical ecosystems and causing “immediate and devastating” consequences for the bean itself, according to peer-reviewed research in the journal World Development.

Differences in regional taste preferences
There are significant differences between countries and regions regarding the most preferred and most frequently launched alternatives to meat.

For example, Cargill notes that in 2021, wheat protein was most used in plant-based meat alternatives in the United Kingdom (included in 24% of all product launches in the category), followed by Germany (16%), Spain (10%), the Netherlands (9% ) and Belgium (7%).

“We see similar differences with pea protein,” Tom Vanderborght, product line manager for protein at Cargill, tells FoodIngredientsFirst. “The five countries that use pea protein the most as plant-based meat substitutes are the United Kingdom (22%), Germany (16%), the Netherlands and Spain (8% each) and Belgium (5%).”

“Although it depends on the sub-application being run, we have noticed some changes in botanical protein sources, with soy being replaced by wheat and/or peas (2021),” he continues.

“The availability of protein sources locally may also play a role in use by country, but overall, functionality, taste, textural benefits and affordability for use in regionally popular applications appear to drive choice the most.”

Looking back over the past five years, Vanderborght points out that the overall best plant-based alternative meat formats where pea protein outperforms soy or wheat proteins include deli meats, meatballs, ground/minced meats and meat substitute blends used to make plant-based alternatives. in the House.

Improved textured protein
One of Cargill’s latest entries targeting the plant space in Europe is its plant protein TEX PW80 M, a unique textured blend of pea protein and wheat protein, which mimics the texture of ground meat.

In addition to plant-based burgers, Cargill’s application teams have developed recipes for meatballs and ground alternatives using TEX PW80 M. These are ideal for use in convenience solutions, such as ready meals and plant-based vegan snacks.

“As a textured protein blend, TEX PW80 M provides a number of functional and nutritional benefits compared to single protein options. Along with its neutral taste, it helps provide firmness and a meat-like bite, providing the chewiness, juiciness and mouthfeel that consumers want in plant-based meat alternatives,” explains Vanderborght.

“The textured protein blend also meets the needs of food processors. It offers improved functionality and contributes to the optimization of the production process, which is highlighted by the high hydration ratio and fast hydration speed, as well as the option of protein coloring and flavoring.”

Equally important, he emphasizes that this specific combination of proteins ensures a high protein content, with at least approximately 77% protein. “Offers an improved amino acid profile compared to most other single-source botanical proteins, for good protein quality.”

Cargill’s portfolio also includes other plant-based protein options, including pea proteins that provide several functionalities, including outstanding solubility and an excellent sensory profile with a mild flavor and low off-notes.

“Our pea protein portfolio includes several options in terms of viscosity and color attributes – a versatility that makes it suitable for a range of applications, including bakery, snacks, plant-based alternatives to dairy or meat, plant-based beverages, sports nutrition products, and more. These are all application areas where the use of pea protein is seeing big jumps,” notes Vanderborght.

Cargill is also bringing new protein blends to market under its Infuse by Cargill service offering model.

“Infuse by Cargill is in the business of customizing ingredient blends to help customers accelerate product development and launch trendier products faster to satisfy consumers,” adds Vanderborght. “Infuse has developed a number of protein blends in applications such as bakery and plant-based meat substitutes that can help provide specific functionality while enabling fiber claims.”

Hybrid protein synergies
Another exciting new source of protein that could revolutionize plant-based formulations is canola, or canola, DSM’s Garringer points out. “Our recently launched canola protein isolate has excellent nutritional properties and application versatility and is now available for mass production.”

“As more and more consumers are looking for high-quality plant proteins, without major allergens and with minimal environmental impact, canola proteins have the potential to conquer the market,” she says.

While the opportunity for plant protein innovation is clear, producers are also under increasing financial pressure as production costs continue to rise, notes Garringer.

Cargill recently launched its Vertis vegetable protein portfolio, which includes natural vegetable proteins and textured vegetable proteins from canola/rapeseed, pea and fava beans. The newest ingredients in this range are Vertis CanolaPRO Allergen Free Canola/Canola Protein Isolate and Vertis Textured Pea Canola Protein.

The range of hybrid ingredients was showcased at the recent FiE 2022 industry event in Paris, France.

“Vertis CanolaPRO is the result of more than a decade of research and development,” explains Garringer. “Canola seeds, also known as canola seeds, are one of the world’s few plant-based sources of complete protein, meaning that the seeds contain sufficient levels of all nine essential amino acids that we need to maintain good health.”

“Vertis CanolaPRO is free of major allergens such as soy, gluten and dairy, and also enables manufacturers to improve the texture of meat and fish alternatives and provide a more pleasant mouthfeel to dairy alternatives, making it a comprehensive product.”

Dubbed the “world’s first” in plant protein, Vertis Textured Canola Protein is a soy- and gluten-free textured plant protein that contains sufficient levels of all nine essential amino acids to be a complete protein.

“The ingredient is formulated to provide excellent textural results in meat alternatives,” says Garringer. “By using pea and canola proteins in combination, we can help producers recreate the firm, springy bite of meat in ground and shredded formulas, while also keeping salt and fat levels under control.”

What’s next in the alternative protein arena?
FoodIngredientsFirst continues to highlight a diverse array of alternative protein sources, now extending beyond conventional plant-based solutions.

This year has seen conventional dairy players, such as the Bel Group, expand beyond traditional cheese offerings and invest in scaling precision fermentation technologies – harnessing the power of microbes – to produce whey and casein. The same process was used to develop authentic ice cream based on dairy products and milk chocolate, without the cow.

Furthermore, consumers recently tasted the world’s first cultured cuts of meat at the Singaporean butcher’s revamped bistro menu. With its basic roots in the “Garden City” of Southeast Asia, the cell-based protein movement has evolved beyond the germination stage and is now accelerating after an initial proof of concept.

But all this does not mean that the plant-based revolution is on the wane. Crop science is still discovering new areas of interest, including potato-based protein ingredients for alternative Parmesan cheese and AI-enhanced seeds with higher nutritional values.

Benjamin Ferrer

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