How can we provide the growing world population with high-quality protein? Gertjan Smolders, and his colleagues at the DSM Biotechnology Center in Delft, researched the possibilities and developed a unique technology that produces high-quality protein from the inedible parts of the rapeseed plant.

“Our research team soon realized that our focus needed to be on new methods for protein production. This nutrient is essential to the body, yet, many people around the world have a protein intake that is too low, “says Smolders, RT&D Manager of DSM’s Rapeseed Protein Venture. “It also seemed smart to use an existing plant raw-material stream, in view of the growing scarcity of agricultural land.”

Animal feed
The researchers soon identified rapeseed (also known as canola), a crop grown worldwide in large volumes for its oil. “It is normal that those parts of the plant that remain after pressing the oil out, end up as animal feed,” says Smolders. “A waste really, because it still contains high-quality proteins.”

However, the plant does not give up its prize easily. “Rapeseed contains many substances that are unsuitable for human consumption; bitter- tasting components for example,” Smolders illustrates. “It is difficult to separate-out the proteins.”

Reverse approach
The extraction of rapeseed oil usually involves the solvent hexane, at high temperatures – treatments that degrade the protein functionality. DSM took the reverse approach. “We took protein functionality as our starting point and developed a process in which unwanted components are removed while maintaining protein quality.”

DSM also found that the raw material for protein extraction needed to be cold pressed rapeseed, without the use of hexane. “This process ensures the proteins remain intact,” says Smolders.

Unique solubility
The result is a more-than-90% pure, high-quality protein with uniquely-high solubility. “It contains all the essential amino acids, something that a number of other vegetable proteins lack, illustrates the RT&D Manager. Solubility is almost as high as whey protein, all but eliminating the chance of a dry or gritty mouthfeel. “And, unlike soy protein, it also works well at a low pH.”

The rapeseed protein can be used in almost all products – from ice cream, yoghurt and mayonnaise to sports drinks, protein bars and even meringues.

DSM is bringing the product onto the market in small steps. “We have built a demo plant in Delft, where we show customers the possibilities and help them develop their own products,” says Smolders.

The production volumes are still small but, if Smolders has his way, this will soon change. “We expect that in the near future there will be a full scale production plant, where we can produce tailor-made varieties of rapeseed protein.”

Enormous potential
Rapeseed protein can, in time, make a significant contribution to global food security. “World production of rapeseed is currently about 70 million ton a year,” says Smolders. “If we could extract all that protein, we could feed 700 million people a year.”

At least as important is that the new protein parallels global consumer trends, emphasizes Smolders: “The demand for sustainably-produced products, that are compatible with a healthy lifestyle, is increasing. Rapeseed protein – vegetable, non-GMO, and free of gluten, milk or solvents – fits perfectly in this picture. ”

About Gertjan Smolders
Gertjan Smolders has been Managing DSM’s Rapeseed/Canola Venture as RD&T manager since early 2016. Previously he had a number of other roles within the company. Smolders graduated from Wageningen University (Environmental Sciences) in 1989 and obtained his PhD cum laude, in 1995, from Delft University of Technology (Biochemical Engineering).

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