Deriving Proteins from side-streams

It’s easy to become inured to shocking numbers if you’ve heard them often enough. And most food professionals have heard the figure of 40% food waste repeated countless times. It should be a shocking number and if it’s not, then we are not letting it sink in far enough.

There is much to be done on food waste in all parts of the chain and perhaps unsurprisingly many different approaches are being taken. In the US, this article scans how venture-capital start-ups are doing creative things with food waste and this one about celebrity chefs addressing the issue to the US Congress.

My personal and professional interests come together on the subject of proteins derived from industrial side streams. The idea of canola proteins has been around for a while, but commercial canola proteins have been a long time coming. Since the volumes of canola oil worldwide are enormous, capturing the protein in the side-stream and putting it to good use could have a major impact on the food chain. Earlier this year we received evidence of progress—last March Coalesence showed a canola protein product at the Arnold Fitness Expo. The canola proteins are not yet available in large volumes, but I’ve added this to my list of protein sources to watch.

Most plant proteins still have a long way to go if they are going to compete with animal-derived proteins (for the Western palate at least). There are certainly technical hurdles to be overcome, but in fact exiting technology already can deliver plant proteins with better flavor and functional qualities. In the lab, plant proteins separated by chromatography and dried in a freeze-dryer perform beautifully on a battery of sensory and functional tests. The real challenge is to identify cost-effective improvements which can be implemented on the factory floor.

Those kind of improvements are likely not a matter of big breakthroughs, but rather companies making small gains through process optimization. Step one toward a better flavor profile is to understand what’s inherent to the starting material and what is process-created. Step two is understanding where in the process the ‘created’ off-notes arise. If steps one and two are performed properly, process optimization can be straightforward. Existing models can be used to balance the need for microbiological stability against off-note creation.

The alternative is to wait—if the commonly cited figures for increasing protein demand turn out to be correct, the business case for breakthrough technologies could become a lot more realistic in five years time!

Author: Dr. Stacy Pyett, Nizo food research BV