Animal-free protein: Is fermentation the future of protein manufacturing? IFT 2019 report


At IFT 2019, Ingredion and Clara Foods describe how their partnership will help sidestep the production and environmental costs of animal proteins by using fermentation to make protein ingredients.

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Last month, ingredient supplier Ingredion Inc. (Westchester, IL) announced its new partnership with San Francisco-based company Clara Foods to develop animal-free protein ingredients via fermentation. Clara Foods has proprietary fermentation technology that converts sugar to protein ingredients, without the environmental costs associated with animal-protein production.

Ingredion is now helping Clara Foods bring its products to market and is leading its Series B funding round. “This round of financing will fast-track commercialization of the world’s first chicken-less egg proteins, expand research and development capabilities, and broaden our product portfolio into animal-free proteins,” said Joseph Light, Ingredion’s vice president, global development and ingredient technology, at June’s Institute of Food Technologists’ (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo. He called Clara’s technology “groundbreaking.”


How Do They Do It?

How does Clara’s fermentation technology work? Harshal Kshirsagar, vice president of product for Clara Foods, explained: “Clara Foods technology can produce any type of protein using fermentation. It starts by identifying a microbial expression system which can produce the protein from a nutrient-rich broth. Clara’s technology trains that expression system to make the target protein with nature-identical quality and very high efficiency. These proteins can then be produced at scale using conventional fermentation systems.”

The importance of alternative protein strategies can’t be understated, Kshirsagar said. “Food production is becoming unsustainable.” For instance, he said, producing one dozen eggs alone can take up to 2000 liters of water, and it can take up to 10,000 eggs just to produce one kilo of the food industry enzyme lysozyme. Then, he said, there are also ethical and moral implications involved in animal-based production. By contrast, “The fermentation process eliminates the need for animals and helps create a more sustainable food supply.”

Clara’s technology makes it possible to create protein ingredients that serve many uses, including egg albumen for baking, clean-label antimicrobials, digestive-health supplements, and protein fortification of foods and beverages.

When asked whether fermentation is a novel production method for proteins, Kshirsagar said, “Fermentation technology that Clara Foods uses was developed and optimized by the likes of Genentech (for insulin) and Novozymes (for rennet). For decades, similar technology has been successfully implemented to make vegan blood in meatless applications.”

Clara’s proprietary technology helps to overcome some of the biggest challenges in producing protein ingredients via fermentation. “Proteins have complex structural features that dictate their nutrition and functionality,” Kshirsagar explained. “Manufacturing proteins using fermentation systems can be challenging and can result in loss of some of the structural functional attributes. Clara’s innovative technology solves this challenge by using a novel expression technology that preserves the structural features while making proteins at really high efficiency.”


Investing in Animal-Free Protein

Ingredion’s Light pointed out that the new deal with Clara Foods complements Ingredion’s recent moves to expand its portfolio of plant-based proteins. Last December, the company announced it is investing $140 million to expand its production of plant protein.

“Clara Foods has pioneered groundbreaking technology that allows for a cost-effective method of producing animal-free proteins with unique and highly functional properties,” Light said. “We recognize that animal-free protein is emerging as a trend, and we want to offer a full range of solutions that best meet our customers’ needs.”

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