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Faba bean, pumpkin seed, mankhai, and more may be among the next generation of plant proteins.
It’s an exciting time to be working with plant proteins. Between formulation breakthroughs and lesser-known ingredients like faba bean, pumpkin seed, and mankhai expanding on the market, plant protein is easily one of the most dynamic sectors in functional foods and beverages right now.
Pulse proteins were especially popular at this year’s Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting & Food Expo (IFT 15). Ingredion Inc. (Westchester, IL) showcased a range of prototypes that featured faba bean, chickpea, lentil, and pea protein, including banana pecan bread and vegan meatballs. Pea has already made a name for itself, but formulators seem to be realizing it’s not the only pulse with potential.
“I think pea is the more mainstream-it’s more well-known-but overall the entire category of pulse is becoming more well-known,” said Santiago Vega, senior manager, nutrition marketing, Ingredion. “There’s not too many options, but we see a lot more adoption with lentil-a lot of snacks that have lentil and faba bean. It’s becoming much more mainstream beyond pea.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, and Vega expected the momentum behind pulse proteins to continue to grow. The appeal is a mix of formulation ease, environmental sustainability, and clean-label character, said Vega.
BI Nutraceuticals (Long Beach, CA) has also seen a lot of action around faba bean, which may be a better option than pea in some formulations due to its neutral taste, said Alison Raban, certified food scientist, BI Nutraceuticals.
“For us, once we got the faba in, I was way more impressed with the faba in terms of flavor profile,” said Raban. She added that the neutral taste of faba bean makes it perfect for sweet and savory food applications, including baked goods. Beverages like milks, protein shakes, and vegetable shakes are also a possibility for faba bean, although clear beverages could be a challenge because of its cloudy nature.
Pumpkin seed is another ingredient that has impressed BI Nutraceuticals in the plant-protein space with its functionality and rising popularity.
“It’s got a very light nutty taste to it,” said George Pontiakos, president and CEO. “So if you want to mix it with chocolate or something along that line it’s a very good complementary product for that.”
Ancient grains are still trending in the protein space, and aside from faba bean and pumpkin seed, Pontiakos thinks millet may be another protein ingredient to experience growth in the near future.
“I think plant-based protein is growing much more, and that’s forcing suppliers to find other proteins,” says Raban. “Part of it is rice doesn’t taste good, but also, after a couple of years, people are not that excited about something they’ve heard of for the past ten years. Whey and soy are never going to go away, but at the same time, it’s not as exciting to consumers. It’s not as exciting to formulators.”
Debut of Mankhai
Another new protein ingredient, mankhai, made its debut at IFT. Hinoman (Tel Aviv, Israel) launched the ingredient at the show, which it says is the tiniest vegetable on earth (0.5 mm). Combine that tiny size with a mild flavor and 45% protein by dry weight, and you’re looking at a plant-based protein source that’s easy to incorporate in everything from pasta to sports beverages.
But an even bigger factor in mankhai’s favor may be that Hinoman has found a way of cultivating the wetland plant year-round with no soil and minimal water, land, and energy.
“If you could cultivate soy every week instead of every year, how competitive would that be?” says Udi Alroy, vice president of marketing and business development. The cultivation technique also ensures purity and the absence of pesticides and contaminants, says Hinoman.
Mankhai is a part of the Lemnaceae (duckweed) vegetable family, with a mild taste that Alroy says is close to soy. It also offers all nine amino acids, iron and zinc, fatty acids, and vitamins A, B12, and E, says Hinoman.
Alroy suspects the GRAS-affirmed mankhai will find acceptance on the sports nutrition market first, but its formulation ease should allow the new ingredient to enter a wide range of applications.
“I think the first one will be the powdered beverages, and next all kinds of dry baked products,” says Alroy.
Pea Protein Gets More Versatile
One of the first pulse proteins to go mainstream-pea-is still paving the way as a functional replacement for dairy, meat, and grains in a growing range of food types.
At its IFT booth, World Food Processing (Oskaloosa, IA) showed the versatility of its PURIS pea protein in a vegan cheesecake, vegan stir fry, vegan cream cheese, and protein smoothie.
“We thought there was a huge opportunity around pea protein to make it taste great and have a broad range of functionalities,” said Tyler Lorenzen, president, protein and ingredients, World Food Processing.
Whether its replacing chicken in a stir fry, standing in for peanuts in a Thai sauce, or acting like cheese in a cheesecake or cream cheese, pea is a flexible and flavorful ingredient to work with, according to Lorenzen. He said PURIS pea protein is already appearing in finished products such as cereals, meat analogues, confectionary desserts, beverages, and more.
“That’s just scraping the surface too,” said Lorenzen. “We’re really excited about the possibilities of what else is to come.”
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