Fast-digesting milk protein concentrate opens protein category to even wider mainstream audience

August 27, 2018

In developing a fast-digesting MPC that can compete with whey protein, Fonterra says it is making protein even more accessible to a broader audience. 

Fast-digesting milk protein concentrates (MPC) create opportunity for the continued growth and expansion of the protein category. Nutritional Outlook recently reported the release of SureProtein Fast MPC 4868 from NZMP, the global ingredients brand of dairy cooperative Fonterra (Auckland, New Zealand). NZMP says this fast-digesting protein not only offers some significant formulating and mainstream taste advantages over whey but also is comparable to whey in terms of the resulting amino acid release in the blood.

In a double-blind, randomized, crossover trial, researchers found no difference in postprandial plasma for total amino acids, essential amino acids, and branched chain amino acids or leucine between subjects who took this fast-digesting MPC and whey protein concentrate, NZMP says, but there was a significant difference between those two and a standard MPC.

This is significant because whey protein is considered a fast protein for its ability to be quickly digested in the gut and absorbed, making its essential amino acid content promptly available to the muscle. High levels of amino acids in the blood stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is crucial to recovery and adaptation from exercise.

A milk protein concentrate, in comparison, is a concentration of the proteins in milk, which include casein and whey. “[Milk protein concentrate] is predominantly casein with a ratio of casein to whey that is 80:20,” explains Arron Harford, Fonterra USA’s technical engagement manager, to Nutritional Outlook. “Therefore, it behaves more like casein than it does whey.”

This is because when casein is exposed to the acidic environment of the gut, it forms curds that slow its digestion. This makes casein and MPC more ideal as an overnight protein to take right before bed, while whey protein is best taken right after a workout. Each has an important place in sports nutrition, but in developing a fast-digesting MPC that can compete with whey protein, Fonterra says it is making protein even more accessible to a broader audience.

“Milk protein taste and texture is much more aligned with mainstream preferences,” says Harford. “As protein goes mainstream and we see the following grow, we are providing a product that has a more mainstream taste profile to appeal to maybe not those who are already hardcore bodybuilders, but those who still want the benefits of protein and the taste that’s aligned to their preference.”

Beyond consumer preferences, fast-digesting MPC provides an advantage in terms of formulation. “Whey protein is very heat labile, which means it denatures easily, so if you’re trying to put whey protein into an RTD, it’s difficult to at significant concentrations,” explains Harford. “When it denatures, it creates an unfavorable texture, taste, and grittiness. Whereas an MPC can be used at a much higher concentration, still providing a great taste and texture within that RTD system.”

Fonterra is not the only company to recently create an RTD solution for protein. This summer, Glanbia (Chicago, IL) released a heat-stable whey protein concentrate opening up whey protein to a whole new range of product formulations that include RTD beverages, sauces, and ice cream. Both are important innovations because functionality will be secondary to the issue of taste and texture for most consumers who have a casual approach to protein.

“Protein consumption really started in powder space. It has moved into the bars and RTDs, and we’re seeing increased varieties of formats that protein is being formulated at high levels in,” says Harford. “There is an opportunity for good tasting, functional proteins that don’t remove from the consumer experience and a broader range of formats, where the importance of taste and texture cannot be understated.”

Anticipate even more innovation in this space to meet the growing demand of protein for the everyday consumer.