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Robby Gardner is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, specializing in fresh produce and health food ingredients.
Plant protein sources are sprouting up often, but they aren't always easy to formulate with.
Plant protein sources are sprouting up often, but they aren’t always easy to formulate with. By their nature, and by the shortcomings of standard processing methods, some plant proteins can miss the mark on mouthfeel, taste, and functionality in finished products. The problems are perhaps more obvious in beverages, where plant proteins can have a hard enough time just staying suspended in water.
Plant protein suppliers are fully aware of the limitations, and they’re working to eliminate them. Recent months have revealed numerous innovations that should improve consumer preferences, and maintain nutrition, of plant proteins in beverages.
When it comes to mouthfeel, rice protein may be the peskiest of proteins in powder formulas. Compared to low-molecular-weight proteins such as whey and egg, which are so small that they easily solubilize in liquid, rice protein is primarily made of insoluble, high-molecular-weight proteins. Keeping these proteins in liquid suspension is only part of the problem.
“These insoluble proteins get stuck in the crevices of your tongue and mouth,” says Don Crank, R&D specialist for rice ingredients supplier Axiom Foods (Los Angeles). “They impart a grittiness in the mouth.” Quite a few plant proteins have this grit, says Crank, but it’s most often associated with rice protein.
Axiom Foods supplies Oryzatein brown rice protein, which is derived from whole grain brown rice, including the bran, the endosperm, and the germ layers of the rice grain. To make its Oryzatein brown rice protein more like softer, animal proteins, the company created a proprietary process that breaks rice protein into smaller chains. The process doesn’t degrade brown rice’s other nutrients, such as fiber, sterols, fatty acids, and vitamin A. The result is a creamier-tasting rice protein, and Axiom Foods markets it as Oryzatein SG-BN (Suspendible Grade Beverage/Nutrition). The company plans to apply this SG-BN process to other proteins, including flax, amaranth, and quinoa.
Axiom Foods is putting its creamy breakthrough not just towards rice protein concentrates, but also towards a new line of OryzOlait non-milk rice beverages. The proprietary process is a bit different here, as Crank says it involves converting pectins into starches and, ultimately, simple sugars. What results is a slightly sweet rice beverage intended to mimic the nutritional value of cow’s milk. When used in finished products, OrzOlait shouldn’t require the additional suspension agents, rice syrups, and other sweeteners characteristic of today’s rice beverages. OryzOlait is available as a liquid or agglomerated product.
OryzOlait Bran is a higher-in-fiber option. It’s sourced from rice bran only, and, at 60–70% fiber, it has appeal for gastrointestinal health benefits. Both OryzOlait products are available with added protein to better mimic the nutritional profile of cow’s milk.
All of Axiom’s food ingredients are produced without hexane or other chemical solvents. Organic options are available.
Flax and Chia
They’re known for their omega-3 and fiber content, but flax (Linum usitatissimum) and chia (Salvia hispanica) also pack protein. All of that nutrition from one ingredient can make for an appealing sell in the beverage space, which is why Glanbia Nutritionals (Fitchburg, WI) developed beverage-friendly versions of both seeds for its BevGrad line.
The BevGrad family includes beverage-friendly flax in an original format-for beverages of medium-to-high solids-and an “XtraSmooth” format, in which a smaller particle size enables a smoother-textured flax for beverages of lower solids. There’s also BevGrad XtraThick, a clean-label stabilizer and thickener from flax. BevGrad XtraThick can free manufacturers from hydrocolloids such as guar and carrageenan, which aren’t exactly pantry names.
Keeping flax stable during processing stages used to be a challenge, but Glanbia’s MeadowPure process protects the seed’s omega-3 oils from going rancid during processing or when sitting on shelves as a finished product. The company’s flax ingredients are further protected with a food safety heat treatment process known as MicroSure Plus. In addition to killing 99.999% of pathogens, the 5-log kill process of MicroSure Plus supports both flavor and aroma of flax.
Chia, too, has stability issues, one of which is the threat of spoiled omega-3 oils. To counter that, Glanbia employs its MeadowPure process on BevGrad Chia, a beverage-friendly chia marketed primarily for its rich omega-3 content.
The old days of hemp (Cannabis sativa) protein extraction involved milling and screen- sifting of hemp, a process that separated coarse hemp cake from hemp oil. The method is still popular today, but it has a drawback: there’s a lot more than protein in that hemp cake.
Hemp shell is the outer wrapping of the hemp nut or heart. Where the hemp nut is plump with protein, the shell is primarily fiber and carbohydrates. Of course, there’s nutrition in that shell, but if protein is the end game, fiber and carbohdyrates may be perceived as an obstacle.
For a hemp ingredient that’s higher in protein, GFR Ingredients (Barrhead, AB, Canada) developed a water extraction method that undresses hemp nuts from their shells. This frees up a higher ratio of protein in GFR’s HempSol-65, which is why the ingredient is today’s most concentrated hemp protein powder.
Another reason to consider de-shelling hemp seeds: texturally, hemp shells impart uneven particle size and fibrous grit to hemp protein. But with GFR’s water-extracted hemp protein, a uniform particle size allows for easier suspension and dispersion in cold water.
HempSol-65 can be used in beverages, but also in powder supplements, functional foods, and as a baker’s flour. It carries a slightly nutty flavor and is a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. GFR’s hemp protein is available from non-GMO conventional and organic hemp seeds, grown in Canada, and free of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides.
The pea (Pisum sativum) is not usually thought of as a significant source of protein, but mild taste and a household name has opened many doors for this legume.
Roquette Freres (Lestrem, France) is a seasoned player in the pea protein market, but that doesn’t stop the company from improving its Nutralys pea protein. Sourced from yellow pea harvests in France, Nutralys is now available at a lower particle size of 45 microns. A finer-size powder means a higher surface area of the protein can hydrate and interact with its liquid environment. This improves ingredient stability in water and stability over the course of a finished product’s shelf life.
While much of Roquette’s in-house research is targeting pea protein use in plant-based beverages such as almond milk, pea protein can also offset premiums paid for dairy protein. Another potential advantage of pea protein, Roquette says, is that it takes long to digest compared to quick-digesting dairy protein. Because this understanding is said to be increasing in athletic circles, combining plant and animal protein may prove a fruitful marketing strategy.
What’s next for Roquette? The company wants to develop a pea protein that is completely transparent in water.
Burcon Nutrasciences Corp. (Vancouver) is already well established in the business of clear proteins. It has the industry’s first transparent soy protein. Clarisoy is a line of soy protein isolates that can provide up to 10 g of transparent soy protein per 500 mL serving. Clarisoy 100 imparts clear protein in beverages with pH levels under 4 and Clarisoy 150 is intended for both neutral and low pH beverages, but should be used with cloud systems.
In April, Burcon secured its third U.S. patent for Clarisoy. The soy protein isolate is now manufactured and marketed by Archer Daniels Midland Co. (Decatur, IL).
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) dubbed 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa. While quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) offers an outstanding amount of protein and is popularly consumed throughout South America, this seed is still a newcomer to the specialized protein market-so much so, that Novel Ingredient Services (Caldwell, NJ) says its Quinoasure product is the industry’s only instant, nutritional quinoa protein powder. Sourced from Colombian non-GMO whole quinoa seeds, Quinoasure is the result of a proprietary manufacturing process that makes quinoa more soluble in beverages than quinoa grain or flour. It isn’t raw quinoa seeds, nor is it precooked quinoa.
“Quinoa’s aroma is usually described as ‘unique,’” says Novel Ingredient Services president Bob Green. “Some can barely tolerate it. But Quinoasure is odorless, almost tasteless, and has better mouthfeel.” Green adds that the ingredient will virtually disappear into beverages, functional foods, meal replacements, and dietary supplements.