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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Read about suppliers’ latest advancements for high-protein nutrition bars, meat alternatives, and more.
High-protein food and drinks are a major driver in the healthy food industry. Manufacturers continue to seek ways to include more protein in their products without impacting performance, taste, and texture. At the Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago in July, exhibitors showed off prototypes demonstrating the latest solutions for formulating with high protein.
Dairy Protein Innovation: Ice Pop, Savory Granola
As it does each year at IFT, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC; Arlington, VA), the nonprofit group representing the U.S. dairy industry, demonstrated innovative applications for dairy proteins, especially for healthy snacking.
USDEC’s goal is to demonstrate uses for dairy proteins that formulators may not have entertained before, showing that “dairy has many, many attributes that can work for pretty much any situation,” said Terri Rexroat, vice president, U.S. trade services, USDEC. “From a standpoint of flavor, functionality, and nutrition, dairy is tops in every category, and we like to continue to develop prototypes that demonstrate that and frame dairy in an unexpected light.”
The first prototype USDEC showcased at IFT was a Lemon Ginger Protein Ice Pop containing 10 g of protein from whey protein isolate and less than 100 calories per serving. The product is positioned as a healthy snack for adults, “an adult spin on a classic kid treat.”
“The idea here is to show dairy protein in an application where you typically would not find any protein at all,” said Rexroat. “An ice pop is not typically something that really has any nutritional value from a positive standpoint, and here this has got 10 g of protein per serving, which is really significant considering that this is not a protein application normally.” The ice pop could even be used post-workout “as a quick pick-me-up after exercise,” she said.
USDEC also showcased a Savory Asian Protein Granola containing 6 g of protein per serving and flavored with Sriracha and soy sauce, served on top of a coconut yogurt. In addition to the presence of whey protein and whey protein isolate, whey permeate provided salty flavor so that salt content could be reduced.
“This granola, because it’s savory, is a little unexpected. It can be used in a lot of different applications that you wouldn’t normally think of for granola, like on soups or salads,” said Rexroat. “You add some of this granola and get the benefit of dairy protein in applications that may not typically be high in protein, like sauces and salads, and it adds crunch and some really interesting flavors that are on trend, like Sriracha.”
The staying power of dairy proteins, whether whey or milk proteins, is powerful for one reason, Rexroat said: “The nutrition is undeniable.”
USDEC continues to seek opportunities to include dairy proteins in foods, drinks, and snacks that people can consume throughout the day. “We know that consumers are more interested in trying to find ways to get protein in their diet, and I think certainly over the past five years, we’ve seen a lot of innovation in trying to get protein into common everyday foods that people are going to eat on a daily basis,” said Matthew Pikosky, PhD, RD, vice president, nutrition science and partnerships, Dairy Management Inc., speaking at the USDEC booth.
“Consumers don’t want to stray too far from the foods they enjoy eating, whether it be a granola or an ice pop, or oatmeal and cereal with dairy proteins added to them. They can still enjoy the foods they’ve typically enjoyed, but now they know there’s a benefit of having a higher amount of protein in their total diet and ways to get the protein in at each of their main meals and in between.”
While unusual protein concepts like the ice pops are still the “exception rather than the rule,” Pikosky said, “there does seem to be a little more innovation going on, but companies continue to need help.” He said high-protein soups would also be a good opportunity for food brands.
These days, coffee is trending and teeming with added functional ingredients-vitamins, green tea extract, even broccoli extract. So, why not protein?
Suppliers, in fact, are and continue to propose high-protein coffee concepts.
The latest came at IFT from Synergy Flavors (Wauconda, IL) whose “protein bites” prototype at the show was enhanced with hydrolyzed whey protein from Synergy’s parent company, Carbery (Cork, Ireland).
Nutrition Bar Challenges
As protein suppliers continue to dream big and devise new protein product concepts, some formulating challenges do remain for some applications.
Take high-protein bars. Formulators often still struggle to find ways to address the “hardening” that can occur over time in high-protein bars. Whey protein specialist Arla Foods Ingredients (Viby J, Denmark) introduced its latest solution for softening high-protein bars at IFT.
The ingredient is a whey protein ingredient called Lacprodan TexturePro. Arla says shelf-life tests show that when Lacprodan TexturePro is added to a high-protein bar at 5% of the total product, formulators saw 45% improved texture and 60% reduced hardness after 15 to 18 months, compared to a bar made with standard whey protein.
This new ingredient should not be confused with Arla’s other ingredient for addressing hardening of high-protein bars. Last year, the company introduced Nutrilac PB-8420 whey protein, which it said enables high-protein bars to remain chewy and soft for 12 months or more in ambient storage conditions.
Peter Schouw Andersen, director, application science and technology, Arla, explained that Lacprodan TexturePro is different because it is more of an add-on ingredient that formulators can use to tweak their existing bar recipes.
“With TexturePro, with only an addition of 5% of this specific product, you will actually get a softness of the bar throughout its whole period of life,” he said. “A lot of manufacturers today won’t need to change their recipes. They can just take out 5% of the proteins and substitute this, and then the bar will stay soft.” Adding TexturePro does not lessen the bar’s protein content because TexturePro is a protein ingredient in and of itself.
The company says that TexturePro can help elevate the quality of a company’s high-protein bar, setting it above other products in the increasingly crowded high-protein bar market. Inge Lise Povlsen, senior category manager at Arla Foods Ingredients, said in a press release: “With the number of protein bars on the market proliferating, it’s important to ensure your product stays in the best possible condition throughout its shelf life. Consumers who have a negative experience with a product are less likely to buy it again.” The ingredient is produced in the EU from grass-fed cows and is non-GMO, halal, and kosher.
“From a microbiology standpoint, some high-protein bars could have a shelf life of, say, two years, but most of the producers will put a six-month expiration date on them simply because they get too hard, too chewy. Using TexturePro, they might actually be able to extend their shelf life significantly, simply by adding this at 5%,” Andersen said.
Over in the plant protein space, DuPont Nutrition & Health (Wilmington DE) talked about how the soy industry has learned to overcome plant-protein processing challenges, advancing the many ways in which soy protein can be used.
Austin Lowder, principal applications scientist, meat applications, DuPont Nutrition & Health, talked about overcoming challenges in meat alternatives. “One of the big ones is texture. Trying to mimic meat texture is extremely difficult because you need a very complex system, and there are a lot of differences even between species of meats. And you end up with a variety of different textures, flavors, in different meat products, depending on how they’re processed. So, a steak is going to be very different from a hot dog is going to be very different from a meatball.”
“At the same time,” he continued, “most meats-chicken, beef, pork, muscle proteins-are very nutritious. It’s one of the reasons they’ve been a staple in our diet for so long. So, when we’re trying to make something to mimic that, not only do we have to try to get a similar texture but we need to try to match protein content as well as protein quality, or nutritional value, as well.”
He said soy protein is a good solution on many fronts. First, it is a high-quality protein, with a Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 1.0, comparable to other high-quality protein sources such as egg protein and milk/whey dairy proteins.
In addition, soy protein’s gel-forming capability means that it offers flexibility for creating textures. “For years, soy protein has been one of the major players in this space because it’s able to contribute texture, whether it’s [through its] gel-forming capability or it could be extruded into small pieces that would mimic ground meat, or long, fiberlike strands that would simulate meat fibers,” said Lowder. “We’ve been able to use soy protein from both a functional standpoint as the base of those products, but also to provide a high-quality, very nutritious source of protein that provides all essential amino acids.”
He said soy also tends to outperform the binding and gelling properties of other plant proteins, meaning it has a better ability to create firmer extruded products. “We just haven’t seen that ability from a lot of other plant proteins,” he said.
In the meat-alternatives market, soy’s properties as a globulin make it a great option for creating gel textures and firm textures. Other classes of proteins might not do the same, Lowder said. “Other protein sources aren’t as functional in that way,” he said. “They have their own functionalities, certainly-for instance, gluten has a unique functionality-but as far as being a robust food ingredient, we generally don’t see that from a lot of other proteins.”
And, he said, the simple fact is that a supplier like DuPont, which has been supplying soy proteins for more than 30 years, has garnered a lot of best practices on how to most successfully formulate with the ingredient. “We’ve had 30-plus years of experience processing soy proteins, and we’ve gotten really good at it,” Lowder said.
In the end, success depends on the right protein for the right application, he added. “Whether you’re processing to improve gel strength or improve suspension in a beverage, let’s say, you would do that differently with a soy protein than you would with a pea protein or a rice protein or an oat protein or fava bean protein.”
Also, he made sure to add, “pea protein is not a 1:1 replacement for soy.” In order to be successful in meat-alternative applications, pea would need to exhibit the gel-forming capabilities of soy protein. Another option is to blend soy proteins with other proteins, he added.
In other applications where binding isn’t as important, such as in a beverage, Lowder said, other plant proteins might also be able to play. “But in the meat-alternatives space, it’s different,” he concluded. “Because if we don’t have texture building from our protein, then we have to put other ingredients in there that are very expensive. It’s going to start driving the cost up. So, the best-case scenario is that we have the protein doing the work for us in terms of creating texture in those products.”
“There’s been a lot of trial and error in the marketplace, trying to mix things up to see what happens and see if you can get to that optimal blend,” added Jean Heggie, strategic marketing lead, DuPont Nutrition & Health. “What we’re trying to do is to apply more scientific rigor to that process and really understand at a fundamental level the basic flavor differences between soy, pea, rice, and whatever you want to mix together, and then find out where they’re strong, where they’re weak, where they’re complementary, and then build something that delivers that taste, texture, experience, formed by science.”