Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Focus on plant-based proteins

Work is under way to find viable plant-based proteins that grow well in New Zealand and provide the taste and nutrition consumers demand.

Plant & Food Research general manager of science and food innovation Dr Jocelyn Eason told the Primary Industries Summit the key was finding crops that produced the yield necessary to make production viable in NZ conditions.

It would also need to tick off the taste and nutrition demands that “food explorers” were looking for as they diversified their diets.

“Consumers are going out looking for variety and novelty,” she said.

“Environmental, sustainable and ethical considerations are strong motivators for consumers who are eating plant-based foods and beverages.

NZ food producers were world leaders in developing unique products from animal proteins, but plant proteins threw up challenges of their own.

Eason says the quality of the protein was a key factor and it was more difficult to achieve the quality needed from plants.

And, getting the taste right was vital.

“While the food manufacturers haven’t always achieved it, taste and texture remain critical factors, and we need those to be superb in order to satisfy these new food explorers,” she said.

Peas have traditionally been the base protein for many of these products, but Plant & Food researchers were working with growers to come up with other crops that would provide the yield and quality necessary.

“What’s the best thing that we could produce in NZ? How do we evaluate the protein sources that may be the next plant protein ingredient for our home-made products in NZ?” she asked.

There are many factors that need to be considered when testing the viability of a protein.

“We account for how well plants can be grown. We work out what the environmental impact of those plants are and also what the components are – protein, carbohydrate as well as all the minerals,” she said.

“We work out what the yield is because if you can’t grow enough of it, then you’re not going to have a viable protein ingredient source.”

The IP landscape is also important because NZ couldn’t afford to lose its research and development overseas.

Eason outlined a number of projects under way at Plant & Food Research.

Kiwi Quinoa grows two varieties with a protein content of more than 14%. At the moment, it sold the whole grain, but there could be opportunities to extract proteins to make new foods.

The waste streams of processes already happening are important.

“We’re working to make functional proteins from the by-product of oil extraction. Rape seed cake is one we’re looking at,” she said.

However, there was still work to do on how to scale up production.

Pasture foliage was also an exciting proposition.

NZ is a fantastic place to grow grass, but what if it was fed to people instead of cows?

“It’s been a science and tech problem for decades,” she said.

But, Plant & Food had the expertise to crack the code and the researchers behind NZ’s previous success in whey protein extraction were looking at ways to extract proteins from pasture.

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