The Pulse: Give Peas A Chance
Tuesday, October 5th, 2021
Next to plant milk beverages, plant “meat” is the fastest growing market for plant protein ingredients. By Henk Hoogenkamp, Author & Protein Application Specialist.
The global demand for a more sustainable food system is growing fast, with much of the shift from animal to plant being led by the sub-30-year-old generation. Young adults are much more inclined to reduce their meat consumption to benefit the environment and their health*.
Global demand for protein is booming, partly due to rising incomes in emerging markets, as well as consumers’ demand for more plant-based nutrition. In addition, increasing the intake of plant protein can reduce deforestation cleared for the cultivation of animal protein and improve health against degenerative diseases that are associated with heavy and prolonged meat consumption.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how fragile the global food chain really is. From farm to table, major lapses have been identified in food security, ranging from logistic issues to food shortages. Yet the pandemic has also helped to build a more resilient and sustainable food system that is based on less waste and higher efficiency—including the use of apps, robots, and drones.
It is expected that the demand for crops like soybean, pea, fava, mung bean, oat, tapioca, and sunflower will increase dramatically over the next decade and beyond.
With the demand for soy protein—most of which ends up as animal nutrition—and soy oil increasing, the land and water demand for this crop is becoming unsustainable. Yet, the global population is in dire need to find alternative protein sources. Some diversifications are already well on their way, with pea protein ingredients capturing a significant market share that was once dominated by soy protein ingredients.
Of course, closing the gap between animal and plant protein nutrition values should be taken into consideration. Both the PDCAAS and DIAAS methods are good starting points to measure the nutritional quality of various protein sources. However, still quite a few questions need to be answered: for example, why do some people have higher metabolism than others when changing from an animal-based diet to a plant protein diet?
The taste and texture of plant meat and plant milk products often remains a barrier for consumers looking for animal-free options. The bottom line is that successful plant meat and plant milk products must deliver a (near) identical match of the traditional animal-derived product. The three most compelling reasons that will drive mainstream consumer acceptance of plant protein are: taste, nutrition, and costs.
Drawing more protein from plants has become a priority for specialty ingredient companies. Specifically, pea protein has become the posterchild of the plant protein kingdom. The pea is rich in high-quality protein and low in allergens. The yellow pea is a highly sustainable cover crop that is “climate-easy” in many of the world regions.
On the heels of pea protein, fava protein is also making inroads. Fava bean protein can be concentrated using a 90 percent protein isolation process or through dry fractioning. The latter creates a 60 percent protein product without the use of any water. Like pea protein, fava protein ingredients are cultivated with excessive mineral fertilisation, while keeping intact the much-needed biodiversity in crop rotation. This serves as an important refuge for insects in the food chain.
Fava bean, chickpea, and mung bean are going to get a wider footprint on the market. For example, plants such as pea protein, fava protein, and mung bean protein are popular choices to (partly) replace eggs. Egg replacement is trending and now part of the plant-based momentum, showing up in an increased number of reformulated foods.
Another cost-efficient option is tapioca starch: this ingredient has a translucent appearance that is equally appealing in applications where the end-product is meant to be white, such as dairy or dairy-alternatives. In addition, tapioca starch has excellent dough-binding properties and can maintain moisture retention while keeping the stretchable and chew textural preferences. The latter properties are especially important for low-cost cheese alternatives.
It is important to know that the properties of the various plant protein ingredients are not the same. One protein ingredient cannot excel in all physiochemical properties. Properties such as dispersibility, hydration, solubility, gelation, and emulsification are some of the key attributes than manufacturers and recipe formulators should take into consideration when developing plant-based foods.
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