Easy to Long-Range Strategies for Sustainable Protein Foods

Posted on:November 22, 2019

THE CHALLENGES OF AND POTENTIAL steps toward achieving and maintaining a sustainable, global protein supply were the focus of a presentation from Clyde Don, Ph.D., a consultant in the food science and green chemical industries, based in the Netherlands, and Managing Director of CDC FoodPhysica Lab.

The diet of the Dutch in the 1880s, as illustrated by van Gogh’s masterpiece The Potato Eaters, was not ideal, and it was undoubtedly protein deficient. A little over a century later, the food system has dramatically improved; however, improvements to the current global protein supply are still needed.

In developed countries, the protein quality of diets is much improved over those portrayed in van Gogh’s masterpiece, The Potato Eaters, from the 1880s. However, improve-ments to the current global protein supply are still needed.

While global resources exist to feed the world, not all people eat a high-quality diet in terms of protein. Plant-based proteins can help meet global protein needs, and 5% annual growth in the plant protein market has been forecast in the developed countries (such as in North America, Western Europe).

Animal- and plant-based proteins differ in their quality for human nutrition. Protein quality is related to both its digestibility and its amino acid composition. Animal proteins usually have an excellent amino acid composition with respect to human nutrition. In contrast, single protein sources from plants may be low in essential amino acids, such as lysine.

Proteins from various plant sources can be blended to achieve a much better amino acid composition and nutritional value, however. For example, a mixture of rice, mung bean, sesame and carrots approximates casein, a relatively high-quality animal protein, in terms of nutritional quality, said Don.

In addition to nutritional quality, the functionality of animal proteins is challenging to replicate with plant proteins. Early attempts to replace meat with plant proteins led to rubbery, dry products with little taste. Clever blending of proteins can provide both better quality protein and better functionality.

Some of the same factors affect both protein quality and protein functionality. Solubility and the ability to form stiff gels are important to protein functionality in foods, and both are influenced by the amino acid composition of the protein. Protein blends can be used to formulate improved meat-like textures, although achieving proper juiciness remains challenging.

The need to obtain sufficient protein will remain a global concern, even while technical challenges are overcome. Don out-lined five steps to transition towards a more sustainable global protein supply.

Step 1. Sausage of the future: Incorporating alternative proteins represents an easy and currently available way to move away from the overuse of meat. Sausage is one of the first food products that humans developed. As a mixture of ingredients, sausage can be redesigned by blending different proteins beyond meat (e.g., pulses, cereals/grains, fruits/vegetables, nuts and insects).

Step 2. Animal protein waste recovery: Animal proteins that are currently treated as waste products can be reformulated and utilized as foods. For example, the low solubility of egg yolk powder waste can be greatly improved by enzymatic digestion, allowing it to be used in bakery products or protein beverages. Collagen proteins are another animal protein which may enter the waste stream; however, collagen can be added to sausages, thus increasing product yield, reducing cooking loss and improving texture.

Step 3. New sources of protein: New, sustainable sources of protein are being explored. Insect protein shows promise, but it is not currently eliciting much consumer interest (and may cause reactions in those with shrimp and shellfish allergies). Seaweed is another newer protein source which is produced without using land; however, its water solubility and protein content, both of which are desirable for use in food products, are highly variable. Duckweed, despite poor solubility, has shown promise as an ingredient in certain foods, such as bakery products, suggested Don.

Step 4. Novel proteins from the lab: Generating egg proteins without a chicken (or beef without a cow) by using a bioreactor is in the development stage but has not yet reached the marketplace. At least in the EU and the Netherlands, some regulatory resistance to moving cultured proteins into the food chain exists. [Editor’s Note: For the situation in the U.S., see Jessica O’Connell’s presentation “From Cellular Agriculture to Plant-based Milks: Hot Issues in the Protein Arena,” in this issue on page 10 and online at]

Step 5. Protein on demand: Modern technology, such as CRISPR-Cas, could be used to change the amino acid composition of proteins “on demand” to provide desired protein functionality and quality. Fermentation technology (and the scaling up of said technology) is already available that could make this goal a reality.

“Creative Reformulation of Protein Foods: Five Steps toward a Sustainable Protein Supply,” Clyde Don, Ph.D., Managing Director, CDC FoodPhysica Lab

This presentation was given at the 2019 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at

Development Considerations for Keto-friendly Foods

Posted on:November 18, 2019

DAVID PLANK, A SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW at the University of Minnesota and Managing Principal of WRSS Food and Nutrition Insights, offered valuable insights into developing keto-friendly food products in his presentation titled “Product Challenges in the Development of Protein and Keto-friendly Food Products.”

The origin of the ketogenic diet can be traced back to 500 B.C., when ancient Greeks discovered that epilepsy could be controlled by fasting. In the 1920s, a ketogenic diet which mimicked the physiological state of fasting was developed to treat epilepsy. The current ketogenic diet fervor began in 1994, when a television program featured the successful use of a ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy in the son of a well-known Hollywood producer.

The ketogenic diet reduces the frequency of epileptic seizures, but its use is limited primarily to children—because dietary compliance can be problematic in adults. Ketogenic diets are also effective for weight loss and weight management and may be helpful in other conditions. Variations on the standard ketogenic diet have been developed to improve compliance and for specific populations, such as bodybuilders.

Many individuals initiating a ketogenic diet experience the “keto flu,” a constellation of flu-like symptoms, which can include diarrhea and constipation. Other risks associated with ketogenic diets include reduced athletic performance, high cholesterol, ketoacidosis, heart disease and kidney stones.

Plank used a case study to illustrate considerations that might be important when developing a keto-friendly food product. He began with business risks: In addition to compliance problems, the potential for side-effects and the inability to make validated health claims could constitute liabilities. To mitigate these risks, the company focused on developing a “keto-friendly,” nutritious product that could stand on its own. They also included wording in the product labeling that recommended consulting a doctor before initiating a ketogenic diet.

The fat, protein and carbohydrate content of almonds approximates that of a ketogenic diet.

For their product platform, the developers wanted their product to be natural; high in fat and protein; low in carbohydrates yet high in fiber; locally sourced; and healthy. Almonds (grown local to the company in California) were chosen for the product’s base. The composition of almonds (i.e., 51% fat, 21% protein and 20% carbohydrates) approximates that of a ketogenic diet, and almonds are well liked by consumers.

The protein content of foods is estimated using nitrogen conversion factors (NCFs). An NCF measured in 1898 has been used to assess the protein content of almonds. This factor was based on a single storage protein found in almonds, but other proteins within the nut have higher levels of nitrogen. Following a new analysis, a higher NCF of 6.25 (20% more than the original value) was obtained, which should allow it to be labeled with a higher protein content, increasing the final product’s value.

In choosing a sweetener for their product, cane sugar was rejected because of its negative perception by most ketogenic dieters (despite having a “clean label”). The developers eventually chose the sweetener allulose, a monosaccharide isomer of fructose, with 70% of the sweetness of sucrose and only 0.4 calories per gram. According to a new FDA draft guidance on allulose, the sweetener does not need to be counted in total or added sugars on labeling.

The lack of fiber in a ketogenic diet reduces mineral uptake and disturbs the gut microbiome; therefore, the developers wanted to enhance the product’s fiber content. Allulose inhibits an enzyme involved in starch metabolism, essentially turning starch into fiber. Almonds themselves are a good source of fiber, but even more fiber was desired.

The company decided to incorporate a viscous fiber into the product to enhance its overall fiber content. Due to current intellectual property considerations, Plank could not reveal its identity but noted that clinical data supports its role in weight management. Together with an existing EFSA-affirmed health claim for the fiber, future marketing claims for the product should be easily justified.

The addition of the viscous fiber to the almond butter product provides other benefits. The fiber gives the product structural stability. Importantly, the addition of the fiber also prevents oil separation in the product without the use of hydrogenated fats or emulsifiers, which consumers perceive negatively. Finally, the addition of the fiber allows intellectual property to be captured for the product formulation, providing a potential advantage in the marketplace.

“Product Challenges in the Development of Protein and Keto- friendly Food Products,” David Plank, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota; Managing Principal of WRSS Food and Nutrition Insights

This presentation was given at the 2019 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at

Protein Quality Measurements, Claims and Values

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INITIALLY, PROTEIN ASSESSMENT involves gathering evidence necessary to support protein claims on food labels. In his presentation titled “The Impact of Processing on Protein Quality Measurements: Implications for Protein Content Claims,” James D. House, Ph.D., of the University of Manitoba, relayed that two key parameters are: 1) how well does the amino acid composition of the protein source match to human amino acid needs; and 2) how well is the protein digested, and are the amino acids absorbed to support the needs of the consumer.

“Regulatory frameworks for protein content claims in Canada and the U.S. are underpinned by the protein efficiency ratio (PER) and protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS), respectively,” explained House. The digestible indispensable amino acid score (DIAAS) is a novel approach to measuring protein quality. The EU uses an expression of protein content relative to energy content.

The PER method utilizes a rat bioassay that measures weight gain/protein intake over 28 days and adjusted relative to a reference protein (casein). “The advantage,” according to House, “is it’s simple and provides a summative biological response to protein intake.” But using rodents is not reflective of human AA needs, and there are ethical constraints. There is limited data available; 47 entries are in the CFIA PER table and 247,326 foods in USDA Food Composition Databases. “Also, the values are non-additive, so it is limited in its use to predict values for new food products,” he explained.

The PDCAAS is determined from the product of the AAS (calculated by dividing the food AA by the AA in the reference pattern) and true fecal protein digestibility (determined by fecal nitrogen output divided by the dietary nitrogen input), with a correction for endogenous losses. Protein content claims for foods are based on the product of the PDCAAS and the protein content of the representative amount customarily consumed (RACC). House stated that “a value of 5-9.9g is a ‘good source’ of protein; 10g or greater is an ‘excellent source.’”

House also explained: “The advantages of the PDCAAS are that it’s simple; there are robust AA datasets; and values are additive to permit calculations of PDCAAS values for mixtures of proteins. However, as with the PER, the PDCAAS is determined using a rodent bioassay. Also, fecal protein digestibility is impacted by gut microbiota, and values are truncated at 1.00, so proteins of higher quality are not identified.”

The DIAAS has been proposed but has not yet been adopted by any jurisdiction. It has advantages, because it treats AA as individual nutrients; uses ileal (relating to the ileum) digestibility values; and scores are not truncated. But, stated House, “It is a bioassay with its associated ethical constraints; multiple analyses are required for one DIAAS value; and it has an arbitrary cut off of 75% for protein source claims.”

Various factors, including plant genetics and growth, as well as processing, affect the quality of plant proteins. (See chart “Factors Influencing Plant Protein Quality.”)

House’s research has found that digestibility values for fava, pea and lentil protein isolates were greater than concentrates—most likely due to reduced antinutrient factors. Despite having a higher protein content, the final PDCAAS values of the isolates were lower than concentrates for lentil and pea, due to lower AAS. This suggest that the isolation process altered the AA composition. Extrusion of flours from buckwheat and pinto beans resulted in higher PER, increased digestibility and greater PDCAAS than baked products. A correlation was found between digestibility and PDCAAS values generated from in vitro and in vivo methods. House suggested that “the use of in vitro digestibility analysis could be a potential replacement for current rodent assay for nutrient content claims.” (Nosworthy, MG et al. J. Agri. Food Chem. 2017/

Another study showed that the PDCAAS for processed beans was higher than the DIAAS (61 vs. 45%). Extrusion/cooking of various beans resulted in higher PDCAAS (66% average) and DIAAS values (61% average) than baked (52 and 48%). A significant correlation was found between PDCAAS and in vitro PDCAAS (R2 = 0.7497). (Nosworthy, MG et al. Nutrients. 2018/

“Protein quality plays an important role in communicating protein messages to consumers,” concluded House. “But, given the many sources of variability in assessment methods, we need new practical approaches for its determination.”

“The Impact of Processing on Protein Quality Measurements: Implications for Protein Content Claims,” Dr. James D. House, Dept. of Food and Human Nutritional Sciences, University of Manitoba

This presentation was given at the 2019 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at

Plant vs. Animal Protein Functionality in Model Systems

Posted on:November 17, 2019

“FUNCTIONAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN dairy and plant proteins will affect performance in beverage and bar applications,” said Hong Jiang, Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, in her presentation titled “Characterization of Functional and Sensory Properties of Commercial Food Protein Ingredients.” Jiang and fellow researchers recently characterized the functional and sensory properties of 30 different, commercially available dairy and plant protein ingredients.

Dairy proteins that were tested included milk and whey proteins. Plant proteins included potato, pea, soy and rice protein. All ingredients were >75% protein and were hydrated for one hour at room temperature before testing. Functionality tests were performed at the protein’s native pH. Below are key results. Water-holding capacity is the ability of the protein to trap water within a protein’s three-dimensional structure. This property is important for processed meat, soups and sauces, and bakery/pastry. The proteins with the best water-holding capacity were milk, soy and pea.

Viscosity is also a measure of water-holding capacity and demonstrates the flow properties and thickening ability of a protein ingredient. Of the proteins tested, milk and pea protein had the highest viscosity at 10% protein solution.

Heat stability is an important property for beverages. At pH 3, whey proteins had the best heat stability, followed by plant proteins, then milk proteins. Whey protein isolate (WPI) is ideal for clear RTD applications, such as juice, isotonic drinks and protein water. However, not all whey protein ingredients will be clear. Whey protein concentrate (WPC) ingredients contain fat, so they will make beverages cloudy or milky-looking. WPI is the product suitable for clear drinks. Heat stability at pH 7 is important for UHT beverages and other low-acid foods. At neutral pH, the most stable proteins were milk and whey.

Stability in pH 7 beverage: Ten of the proteins were also tested for stability in UHT beverages based on their heat stability results at pH 7. Formulas were standardized to 5% protein; the pH was adjusted to 7; and formulas were processed in a UHT MicroThermics unit at 140°C for three seconds. At day one, all beverages were stable; however, the rice protein had a sandy texture. The color of the beverages varied by protein source. Bitterness increased after heating. Some of the protein beverages became slightly thicker over two weeks’ storage.

Stability in pH 3 beverage: Seven of the proteins were also tested in a high-acid beverage application based on their heat stability results at pH 3. The native whey, WPI and potato protein produced clear beverages. All beverages exhibited some astringency, but the whey protein beverages had a cleaner and more acceptable flavor profile. Three of the four plant beverages separated during storage.

Emulsion activity is important for salad dressing and coffee creamer. Whey, milk, pea and soy protein were better at forming an emulsion than potato and rice protein. Emulsion stability was measured after heating to 80°C for 30 minutes. Milk, soy and pea proteins exhibited good emulsion stability.

Foaming ability is important for mousse, cake and whipped topping. Whey proteins had excellent foaming ability. Whey proteins also had good foam stability as measured after sitting for 30 minutes.

Gelation ability and gel strength are very important for cake, pie filling and processed meat. Heat is required to induce gelation of protein ingredients. Only 12 of the 30 ingredients tested were able to form a gel. All whey ingredients formed a gel.

Sensory properties in 10% hydrated solutions were determined by a trained panel of nine individuals using an established sensory language. Plant proteins had higher intensity of astringent, bitter, sour and beany flavor than dairy proteins. (Research done by Dr. MaryAnne Drake at North Carolina State University.)

Model protein bar. All 30 protein samples were tested in a typical bar formula. The ratio of carbohydrate/protein/fat was 40/30/30. The bars were stored at room temp or in a 45°C incubator for 90 days. Following room temperature storage, all protein bars were darker in color.

On day one, all protein bars appeared soft. After three months of storage, the milk and plant protein bars became significantly harder than the whey protein bars. After 90 days of storage at elevated temperatures, almost all bars reached an unacceptable level of hardness. Some of the whey protein bars remained comparatively softer. Rice protein bars retained softness during storage but tasted grainy and sandy.

All proteins are unique. Dairy proteins offer a comprehensive solution to end-users compared to plant proteins. When selecting a protein ingredient, remember to choose a suitable functional test for the desired end-use application and manufacturing process.

“Characterization of Functional and Sensory Properties of Commercial Food Protein Ingredients,” Hong Jiang, MSc, Research Specialist, Center for Dairy Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This presentation was given at the 2019 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at

Research into Improving Plant Protein Ingredients

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PLANT PROTEINS have come to the fore for a number of reasons. For one, [the raw materials generally] cost less than animal proteins. But they also align well with a number of emergent consumer trends, such as vegetarianism, veganism and sustainability. Thus far, however, proteins’ functionality as ingredients has lagged behind that of animal proteins.

Prof. B. Pam Ismail, Associate Professor, Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition, and Director of University of Minnesota’s Plant Protein Innovation Center, discussed some intriguing technologies that should expand the use of plant proteins in foods and beverages. She also provided details on two new, interesting protein-rich oilseeds under evaluation for potential commercialization.

“When investigating new and novel proteins, we need to know how to obtain desired protein ingredient functionalities through cost-effective extraction and processing techniques,” said Ismail. In addition, she said, “If they don’t taste good, consumers won’t eat them.” Cost-effectiveness, functionality and taste must go hand-in-hand.

The search for new plant protein sources to meet rising global demand led Ismail’s researchers to focus on alternate sources to soy, such as peas. She noted that, in 2012, 81% of commercial (plant) protein ingredients were obtained from soy. By 2017, soy protein’s market share had dropped to 61.4%, while pea protein’s share rose from 7.6 to 21.2% and continues to rise. Yet, pea protein processing technology remains in a relatively early stage, said Ismail.

One big quality variable is solubility. Most plant proteins (globulins) exist deeply imbedded within fiber and starch matrices, with water-loving (hydrophilic) amino acids on the surface and water-repelling (hydrophobic) amino acids within the interiors of the protein molecules. The hydrophilic amino acids on the surface are what render proteins soluble. During processing, however, conditions such as temperature, shear or changes in acidity can cause proteins to unfold (i.e., denature) and expose the interior hydrophobic amino acids, causing the proteins to aggregate and precipitate. Therefore, the objective of plant protein extraction and purification is to minimize the denaturation conditions that compromise protein integrity and function. Ismail outlined some of the new technologies being developed at her research center.

The first step is to optimize extraction conditions, said Ismail. She cited three techniques: isoelectric precipitation, salt extraction and ultrafiltration. In addition, Ismail’s researchers are investigating new techniques whereby to modify the surface characteristics of extracted proteins in order to enhance stability, such as targeted enzymatic modification (the selective hydrolysis of protein sub-units); glycation (conjugation of a reducing carbohydrate with a protein to increase stability); and cold plasma (the application of partially ionized air to oxidize protein surfaces).

Comparing extraction techniques, Ismail averred, “We found that salt and ultrafiltration yielded proteins that were less denatured and more thermally stable than proteins extracted through pH modification.”

As Ismail explained: “When considering current commercially available protein choices for beverage applications, whey remains the dominant protein isolate, with close to 100% solubility. Soy protein isolate isn’t that great, with slightly less than 20% solubility, but it is still better than pea protein isolate, which exhibits 5-6% solubility. Using salt-based extraction, we were able to increase pea protein solubility six-fold. When combined with targeted enzyme hydrolysis, we approached 90% solubility; with glycation, we achieved 100% solubility.” (Similar to whey protein, that is.)

Ismail’s group has been applying these protein molecule and process- modification techniques to two promising oil seeds, camelina and pennycress, with encouraging results. “These are winter crops favored for short growing seasons, and both are rich in fat (30-40%) and protein (25-30%),” she said. Modified camelina protein, in particular, shows promise of exhibiting stability in highly acidic beverages, although she admitted some flavor issues remain to be resolved, especially in pennycress protein.

In response to a question from the audience, Ismail added that, while the focus of her team’s research has been on increasing protein solubility, the same techniques could also apply to increasing protein hydrophobicity (insolubility), leading to gluten-free protein alternatives for baking, for example.

In a global market where protein demand is likely to remain, in Ismail’s words, “steep and long-term,” the development and commercialization of new protein sources and modification technologies can only expand product developers’ fields of dreams.

“Plant Proteins: Structural and Functional Properties & Use in Food and Beverage Formulations,” Prof. B. Pam Ismail, Ph.D., Associate Professor Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition, and Director of University of Minnesota’s Plant Protein Innovation Center

This presentation was given at the 2019 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars at

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