The use of plant proteins has gone beyond simply being a cost-effective solution to more volatile ingredients.

“Historically, using plant proteins was all about the cost-saving associated with partial egg replacement,” said Aaron Reed, senior food technologist, Cargill. “That’s still true, especially for soy flour, but most often, protein is added to snack and baked goods for nutritional benefits and trendy consumer appeal.”

When protein content targets are high, bakers often rely on soy protein isolate. It is a highly purified form of soy protein with a minimum protein content of 90% on a moisture-free basis.

“It provides the most protein for the best protein fortification in bakery products,” said David Guilfoyle, design manager bakery, fats and oils, IFF North America. “The isolated protein is available in powders and in various forms of nuggets. This gives the formulator a wide range of creativity.”

Protein isolates and concentrates in powder form can go into a wide range of components. This allows bakers to layer in the protein, distributing it throughout the product so it is not concentrated in one component.

“In a chocolate chip cupcake with vanilla icing, for example, the product design can have part of the protein as an isolate powder in the cupcake batter, part of the protein as an isolate powder in the chocolate chips and the remainder of the protein as an isolate powder in the icing,” Mr. Guilfoyle said. “Distributing the protein throughout the product helps maintain great texture, flavor and appearance.”

One of the most common challenges with plant protein-enriched baked goods is achieving the right texture while also meeting protein fortification targets. That’s because some plant-based proteins may produce a gritty or dry texture because of their high water and oil absorption rates.

“This absorption tends to cause ingredients to compete for available water within the formulation,” said Stephanie Doan, manager of product innovation, Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division.

“By limiting other high-water absorbing ingredients in formulations, bakers can incorporate other higher-protein ingredients to increase the protein fortification levels in gluten-free, plant-based bakery applications.”

Blue Diamond offers a range of almond-based ingredients, including almond flour and almond protein powder. The almond flour is produced by finely milling whole almonds into both blanched and natural flours.

“Almond ingredients have a neutral flavor that is not only more appealing to consumers than the bitter or beany notes of other plant-based proteins, but its clean flavor can help developers reduce the need for high-cost flavor maskers,” Ms. Doan said.

Almond protein powder is associated with higher moisture and fat absorption properties, which allows developers to create products that stay moist without the gritty, chalky textures, according to Ms. Doan. Further, because of almonds’ inherent fat content, the formulation typically requires less added fats and oils than with traditional wheat flour.

While boosting protein content and addressing formulating challenges, bakers can also turn to the protein found in wheat, the base ingredient for most conventional baked goods. Because wheat protein isolate is derived from wheat, it can be added to wheat-based baked goods without some of the impacts other plant-based proteins might bring to the formulation.

Manildra Group USA’s GemPro line of wheat protein isolates boosts protein content and improves functionality and finished product characteristics in a variety of bakery applications. For example, GemPro 4400 contains 85% protein and improves dough machineability and can be an effective egg replacement solution. This results in enhanced machineability, increased volume and improved texture for whole grain baked goods and extruded products, cakes, biscuits and batters.

Blending proteins also can address water absorption challenges.

“When making cookies, it’s possible to do a 1-to-1 swap of [traditional wheat] flour with a pea and wheat protein blend with minimal water adjustments, while maintaining the cookie’s softness throughout its shelf life,” said Jeff Hodges, manager, bakery, snacks and confections applications, ADM. “Pea proteins are ideal for extruded grain-based snacks, including puffs, curls, sticks and crisps. In addition to providing intriguing textural elements, our pea proteins’ clean flavor and light color diminishes the need for flavor maskers and other added ingredients.”

One way to overcome these challenges is to manipulate the leavening system in baked goods. Innophos now offers a phosphate-based leavening blend that improves volume and texture in protein-fortified baked goods.

“In muffins fortified with 8 grams of pea protein per serving, the addition of this leavening solution had a significant positive impact on texture, specific volume and improved machinability of batter,” said Songwei Wu, staff scientist, food and beverage, Innophos. “Improved machinability is a significant benefit, as formulators can encounter significant setbacks when manufacturing protein-heavy products on equipment that was originally intended for more traditional flour applications.”

Many baked goods rely on eggs for structure, emulsification, flavor and texture. Merit Functional Foods’ canola protein ingredient is said to function like eggs, enabling vegan-friendly and gluten-free products that look and taste like they should.

“Merit’s non-GMO canola protein uses 100% Canadian grown canola,” said Lisa Casper, technical applications manager at Merit. “It delivers the whipping and some of the structure building of an egg, making it a valuable tool for baked good formulators. When used in combination with Merit’s unique pea protein, formulators can achieve a PDCAAS of 1.0 in certain applications.”

Emulsifiers and hydrocolloids are often included in plant-based baked goods because they assist with aeration. They may also help extend shelf life. 

“Emulsifiers and hydrocolloids will help with increasing the moisture retention within the product,” Mr. Guilfoyle said. “This in turn aids in shelf-life extension and better mouthfeel for an improved eating experience. Flavor maskers are used to tone down the protein flavor and bitterness, while texture modulators enhance the ‘creamy’ feel during consumption.”

This article is an excerpt from the February 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Plant-Based Protein, click here.