How to source plant-based proteins

by Donna Berry
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Chickpea flour can enhance protein content and provide processing and texture benefits.

Protein is vital to support the health and well-being of humans. However, not all proteins are alike; they vary in their individual amino acid composition and their level of amino acid bioactivity, among other attributes. High-quality proteins are those that are readily digestible and contain the dietary essential amino acids in quantities that correspond to human requirements.

Protein quality is measured using the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), where values are truncated to a maximum score of 1.00, which cow’s milk, casein, whey, eggs and soy proteins all possess.

This is not to be confused with complete protein, which defines those that contain all nine of the essential amino acids and can be fully utilized by the body during the protein synthesis. Animal proteins are complete as are soy and quinoa. Most other plant proteins are not.

“Bakers can either develop products to increase the total protein or choose to make a front-of-package claim achieving a ‘quality’ protein statement,” said Bill Gilbert, certified master baker, principal food technologist, Cargill. “To make a front-of-package claim, protein must be calculated as a complete protein. This is an important distinction, as many plant proteins are deficient in one or more of the essential amino acids and are therefore incomplete. To supplement for the lacking amino acids, developers often need to blend proteins.”

Adding plant-based protein claims to items like cookies can provide a point of differentiation on store shelves.

Pea protein, for example, contains all the essential amino acids, but it is not complete because two of the amino acids, methionine and cysteine, are limiting. This means that these two essential amino acids combined are present at less than 25 mg per 1 gram of crude protein, Mr. Gilbert explained. Soy protein, on the other hand, is complete because it contains all the essential amino acids at the appropriate levels.

“Blend the two ingredients together in just the right ratio, and formulators can take advantage of the functional benefits of pea protein and still make complete protein claims,” he said.

“Good” or “excellent” source of protein claims refer to the amount of complete protein in the product (5 grams or 10 grams per serving for each respective claim).

“Cargill developed a ‘good’ source of protein bread that delivers 5 grams of complete protein and 9 grams of total protein by using a system of plant proteins and other protein-containing ingredients,” Mr. Gilbert said.

It’s important for bakers to understand there are the differences in protein content among ingredients sourced from the same plant. For example, within the soy protein product family, soy isolates are about 90% protein, soy concentrates are closer to 70%, and soy flours may contain around 50%. This varies by supplier.

Cargill offers two plant-sourced protein options: soy and pea. The pea protein delivers 80% protein with a high PDCAAS. It is derived from non-GMO seed varieties developed to minimize the off-flavors normally attributed to pea protein.

“Through Cargill’s formulation expertise and the great flavor profile provided by these genetics, we were able to overcome the off-flavors often associated with pea protein products,” said Paige Ties, senior technical service specialist, research and development. “We also offer soy flour, which contains 50% protein.”

Kerry recently introduced a plant-based protein portfolio that uses a proprietary process to combine oats, peas and rice with flavor-masking technology. With a PDCAAS of 1.0, it can be used in a variety of baked foods, including bread, buns, muffins and cookies to make protein content claims.

Plant proteins may be used in gluten-free baked foods to enhance protein content and provide processing and texture benefits. Chickpea flour, for example, may be useful in a gluten-free pizza crust. It softens texture by opening the cell structure and can reduce or sometimes eliminate the need for egg whites in recipes.

Protein content percentage varies among ingredients and those variations can affect taste and texture.

“Using faba bean protein in a gluten-free tortilla formulation helps with dough handling, adds color and improves elasticity,” said Dilek Uzunalioglu, senior business scientist, global applications, Ingredion, Inc.

Ms. Uzunalioglu added that plant proteins such as pulses can be sustainably sourced, which is becoming increasingly important to consumers.

Ingredion’s portfolio of plant proteins, which are sourced through the company’s strategic partnership with AGT Foods, includes pea, lentil and faba bean pulse proteins with a minimum protein content of 60% and pulse flours made from chickpea, pea, lentil and faba beans. The latter have a minimum 20% protein content.

“In white pan bread, using around 10% faba bean protein provides 7 grams of protein per 59-gram slice,” Ms. Uzunalioglu said. “In crackers, you can use up to 25% faba bean protein, which can deliver about 7 grams of protein per 30-gram serving.”

Healthy Food Ingredients (HFI) offers a wide range of pulse ingredients, including flakes, raw flour, precooked and pre-gel flours. “The key consideration is to match the base product to the application,” said Michelle Kibitlewski, senior food technologist, HFI.

Lighter beans work well in applications in which less flavor impact is desired, while darker colored beans can add more savory notes. Adzuki bean flakes, for example, can be used to add color and crunch in a cracker.

“One of my favorite applications to show the versatility of these ingredients is a rosemary-cracked pepper navy bean cracker,” Ms. Kibitlewski said. “It includes 5% flour weight, pre-gelatinized navy bean flour and 15%, flour weight, pre-cooked navy bean flakes. The addition of these ingredients doubles the amount of fiber as compared to a cracker made with white flour and provides 4 grams of protein per serving.”

Parabel USA won a Food Ingredients Europe Innovations Award last November for its new Lentein plant protein, which is extracted from the world’s smallest flowering plant known as the water lentil. Parabel is the first company to develop an open hydroponic system to grow, process and commercialize the plant.

Lentein is an ingredient containing 40% to 50% protein — with a PDCAAS of 0.89 to 0.93 — and 40% to 45% fiber, in a balanced ratio of insoluble and soluble fiber.

“Within the 7% fat content, half of the fat is healthy omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linoleic acid,” said Supaporn Naknukool, protein scientist, Parabel USA, Inc. “Lentein is rich in calcium, iron and manganese and also contains a high amount of phytosterols such as chlorophyll, beta-carotene and lutein.”

Because of its high chlorophyll content, it has a mild, pleasant green taste and color. This can be managed strategically in baked foods.

“It’s a matcha-like flavor,” Ms. Naknukool said. “It readily blends with vanilla to create a creamy matcha flavor. It is also a great match with coconut, almond, banana and chocolate flavors in baked goods. At an inclusion level of 5% to 10%, there is no observed effect on texture and water activity of finished product.”

The company modified a conventional bread recipe to contain 6% Lentein. A single serving now may claim to be an “excellent” source of vitamin A, as well as a “good” source of fiber, iron, omega-3 fatty acids and protein.

With so many choices of protein sources and types, finding the perfect blend may seem overwhelming. “As with all new product development efforts,” Mr. Gilbert said, “the best place to start is with a clear definition of what you want in the end.” 
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