Products with green proteins often look like meat products. The name ‘meat replacer or ‘meat alternative’ refers to something second best. Therefore, a new identity has to be developed for these products. The category offers opportunities for the food sector. Companies can meet challenges by co-creation. This can be concluded from the Green Protein summit in October 2017.
A fast growing worldwide population and increasing demands from growing middle classes in Asia and elsewhere, the large amount of land and water used to grow cattle, and health issues related to a high intake of (red) meat; the need of a transition towards more vegetable based protein sources seems obvious.
Speakers on the Food Valley Summit on Green Proteins mentioned many reasons for a shift towards a more plant based diet. According to Anna-Kajsa Lidell from the Swedish producer Food for Progress, resources are threatened by climate change. Moderator Jeroen Willemsen CEO from Food for Impact mentioned the tremendous losses of Nitrogen and Phosphorus while producing meat. “Both meat and fish have a poor conversion rate”, said Robert Vreeman, CEO from the Corpeq Green Protein Fund. He also stressed health issues, “We should not cure a disease, we should prevent it”.
Willemsen – who calls himself a ‘green protein crusader’ – claims the key factor to success is meeting consumer needs. “Anticipate on what the consumer wants. Diets will change. A more plant based, more sustainable and more healthy diet is the diet of the future.” He thinks this will offer opportunities to the food industry. New products with green proteins should be tasty and look good. Anna-Kajsa Lidell stressed the importance of an attractive presentation.
Moreover, green proteins should not refer to meat replacer, meat substitute or meat alternative. Helen Kranstauber from Food Cabinet said those words are especially unappealing to young people who make no distinction between meat and proteins from other sources. “We need a new narrative for people who don’t carry that luggage with them.” She pleaded for a new marketing approach. The name of a product is essential. In a temporary cabbage restaurant she organized, ‘the ultimate burger’ was served. Guests liked the product, but some of them complained the meat (in the vegetarian burger) wasn’t cooked enough.
She also stressed the importance of communication. “If you call it vegan, you exclude people. We have to go from a diet with lots of meat intake to a more plant based diet. Vegans, flexitarians, meat lovers; we want all groups to be engaged.” Lidell from Food for Progress explained that the target market of her brand Oemph! is the flexitarians. “The product is vegan, but if you address vegans you will exclude other groups of consumers.” She explained companies should be aware of polarization and take care their message can not be seen as a personal threat. “Show people you are part of the same tribe.” By doing so Oemph! had an effect on category growth of 22% in Norway in the first year. People even started to use the name Oemph! as a generic name of products with green proteins.
Her company developed a protein enriched version of a hash brown (a potato cake). “This product had no nutrition at all, just empty calories. We put faba beans in. Now we have a product with 38% faba beans.”
Food designer Katja Gruijters also worked with faba beans. On request of Food Valley NL she designed three ‘iconic bites’, green proteins containing products with a completely different look, shape, taste and texture. Canolas are pasties based on rapeseed. Algas look like sushi. It is a jelly ball on a disc of rice in an algae dressing. It contains water lentils (lemna, not yet approved as a novel ingredient), chlorella and green caviar (caulerpa lentillifera). The third bite fabanelle contained fava beans. It was presented in a cone-shaped bag. Gruijters used locally available ingredients from producers in the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel, in the Eastern part of the Netherlands.
Gruijters first explored vegetable proteins 20 years ago. Her first job was at a meat factory that had started to produce plant based products as well. Then plant based proteins looked like meat, and often they still do. She pointed out that plant based ingredients should stand on its own. “We should give green proteins their own identity.”
Sausage of the Future
Product designer Carolien Niebling combines the old look of a sausage with new ingredients. She said that the sausage was developed because of scarcity. Since world population is growing and worldwide meat consumption is going up, the need to be efficient is rising again. The sausage has been developed over 5,000 years and now butchers can help with a new phase of development. In the book ‘The Sausage of the Future’ that she will launch on the 13th of November, Niebling wrote about 100 new ingredients that would fit into a sausage. From grains, seeds and nuts to vegetables. “The ingredients are all available, butchers can start tomorrow.”
An example of a hybrid product she developed is mortadella with vegetables. It contains 40% pork meat, 18% pork back fat and 28% broccoli and carrots. Another example is bangers and mash with 45% lean pork meat, 15% pork belly fat, 18% green pea puree and 18% potato puree. The fruit salami is a vegetarian product, consisting of 30% forest fruits, 30% dried fruits, 20% almond flower and 15% almonds.
Sustainability has to do with using every part of the animal. The heart fuet is a salami containing 30% lean pork meat, 30% heart meat, 25% pork belly fat and 10% herbs (nettles). “Heart is a butchers’ favorite. Why not use it?” Niebling also designed a chocolate blood sausage. It contains 30% blood, 18% golden apple, 15% barley and 10% pork belly fat.
Her insect pâté took some time to develop. She found out that by soaking the meal worms in carrot juice, the fibers are dissolved. She expects the flavor of insects to improve when they are provided with the right feed.
Functional protein from leaves
To meet with demands new sources of green protein are needed. Paulus Koster, CTO of the company Green Protein, spoke about the sourcing and extraction of a functional protein called Rubisco. It is extracted from green leaves, and has functionalities comparable to egg protein which is widely used in the food industry.
Koster is still to overcome issues like the sensitivity of the protein to deterioration. Green Protein and partners are working on the carefully separation of the ingredient from the leaves using mild processing technology. They also do research on a higher crop yield, necessary because of the low concentration of Rubisco in the leaves.
Another issue is regulatory. An application for Novel Food regulation is required, even though their protein is extracted from the leaves of vegetables that according to Koster have been eaten for hundreds of years.
Koster pointed out that it is a long and winding road to develop a new functional ingredient based on plants. He emphasized the importance of co-creation, as did other speakers on the Summit. He works in a partnership with industry and EU partners. The goal of the project is to realize a demo plant (TRL 7) on production scale.
Jeroen Willemsen asked Koster if he was working on the ‘new green gold’. Koster replied that he was, but that the mining is very difficult. That is not the case for R&D Manager Gertjan Smolders from DSM Nutritional Sciences’ Rapeseed/Canola Protein Venture. The pressed canola cake with 30% to 40% highly valuable protein that is the resource of CanolaPRO, is available in 15 million tons annually. “You don’t have to grow more, it is already available.” The pressed cake is a by-product of producing rapeseed oil. It is used now as animal feed.
On the other hand canola protein has undesirable components. It requires new technologies to minimize their effects on taste, smell and bioavailability. As Koster does, Smolders stressed the importance of mild processing, for example solvent free oil extraction, no high temperatures and no pH extremes to prevent denaturization of the protein. “We have to be quite creative.”
According to Smolders CanolaPRO has a complete amino acid profile. Moreover, it has several attractive functionalities like solubility, foaming volume, emulsion stability and taste. It can be used in all products that now contain egg protein. The product will be available on the market in three years.
CEO Marcel Oogink from Duplaco (Dutch Plankton Company) addressed the possibilities of algae as a source of protein. The algae contain 45% tot 65% of protein and 20% of dietary fiber, and are high in anti oxidants, vitamins and minerals and low in sodium. They can be used to produce an algae burger, algae spread, but also an omelet. The burger is made with 50% fresh algae. Oogink explained that the texture with fresh algae is better than with the dried algae powder. The egg omelet with 10 grams of algae was offered to athletes at the elite sports training centre Papendal in the Netherlands. “We also eat spinach. So why not eat a green omelet?”
Duplaco started in 2017 producing chlorella in a pilot in a photobioreactor. It is producing 10 to 15 tons of dry weight chlorella per year. Oogink explained the pros and cons of producing inside (heterotrophic) or in open air (autotrophic). Even though you need a carbon fuel for energy and start investments are higher he sees much advantages for the heterotrophic production. The production is much higher and you can control functional components. He claimed that producing in controlled conditions is more sustainable.
Rudin Vega Casing
Ruitenberg Ingredients develops ingredients for meat companies and other parts of the food industry. R&D Manager Marian Verbruggen explained that ingredients based on plant proteins complement the range of ingredients. Meat companies can also use them in their products. Rudin VegaCasing is a casing for sausages made from a thick paste based on alginate. It can be used in a continuous production. “Functional properties can be build in, for example transparency. The company can adapt the functionality taking into account the recipe of the processing company.”
Ruitenberg Ingredients also developed Rudin Smoke, a smoke condensate. Both can be used in a formula with a emulsion meat dough or a vegetarian emulsion dough. According to Verbruggen, there are also possibilities for fish and vegetable sausages.
Verbruggen asserted that techno-functionality of novel proteins will determine their fate in traditional application as well as in new concepts. “Quality in taste, bite and juiciness is key.”
Jurriaan Mes from Wageningen University & Research explained people need proteins with the right balance in amino acids. He pleaded for more intervention research in humans. Bioavailability and dynamics can be analyzed postprandial for which standardized protocols should be used. These will support models to translate effects from in vitro digestion to human situation. The increased knowledge on personal digestion and intake can help to optimize nutrition of products and help to evaluate new protein sources.
During the Summit, the Protein Cluster – www.theproteincluster.com – was presented. The Protein Cluster is a collaboration between the Dutch provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel. More than a third of the companies in The Netherlands working on sustainable proteins are located in this area. The provinces will provide support that enables these companies to establish an international foothold for their new technologies, ingredients and applications.
Featured images: Concept: Katja Gruijters Photo credits: Jonas de Witte