A conversation with Dr. Anusha Samaranayaka (Dr. Anusha), KeyLeaf Lead Scientist – Proteins, and Dr. Rick Green, KeyLeaf’s President of Technology Development (Part 3 of 3)
Besides hemp, what other emerging plant protein sources are causing excitement?
There is chickpea protein that is being launched both in the US and Europe; a nicely flavored protein with some oil in it. There is also growing interest in developing products using mung bean and fava bean – but pea protein is the big one, leading the pulse industry. How it’s processed has a big influence on the functionality of the protein, meaning that pea protein from one processer may not be the same as pea protein from another processor because they may have used a different process and that changes the properties.
If you look at the soybean industry, they have many different SKUs of soybean proteins. That industry is so advanced that they really understand how each fraction or modified protein of soy can be used. If you call up and order “soybean protein”, they ask you what you want to do with it, and they’ll send you a specific ingredient that will work for your application. We, as plant ingredient manufacturers, are not at that level yet with most of the new alternative plant proteins, It’s more like: “Here’s what we have – hope it works for you.” But as we research and formulate more new proteins, the industry will start to learn and understand specific fractions, modified proteins and the higher value uses for them.
With respect to upcoming proteins and technologies, canola, oat, quinoa, water lentil, mushroom, and algae proteins are finding more applications in different products. Of particular interest are mushrooms, fungi, and different strains of algae that can be grown in bioreactors in controlled environments at large scale. Their fermentation can be controlled to produce unique functional proteins and also to reduce off-flavors, antinutrients, and improve digestibility. With existing crops like pulses and oilseeds, target breeding to increase protein content, improve protein extractability and flavor, reduce antinutrients, and obtain specific proteins for targeted applications will enable KeyLeaf to produce superior plant-derived proteins for the burgeoning natural food, beverage, and nutraceutical industries.
We’re seeing that the consumer is interested in learning about and trying new types of protein, which is a very good thing, because we have a big group of novel protein sources coming our way. Consumers now understand what protein is and that different types of protein have different nutritional properties, different flavor properties, different textures. You want crispiness? You want crumbly food? You want a foamy non-dairy protein shake with your fava bean fries? In addition to the health benefits, sustainability, and transparency, texture and taste are paramount for consumers in the plant protein space. The protein that’s put on their plate has to feel right in their mouth and have a taste that makes them ask for seconds. KeyLeaf’s specialty is to provide the protein ingredients for the formulators to produce such high-quality products for consumers.