How to produce higher value alternative proteins with less cost, waste and energy

Sustainability is the driver for the protein transition, which continues to gain traction globally. But to succeed in the long term, it must be supported by economic benefits for the manufacturer. In the face of external factors such as the volatile energy market and legislative efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, manufacturers may seek to improve the value of alternative proteins by reducing the cost of producing them. But Kevin van Koerten, Project Manager Processing at NIZO, explains that there is another approach: empowering sustainability in the food transition through innovative processing and sequential extraction and purification, to deliver higher value alternative proteins.

How do you increase the value of a plant protein?

Any conversation around protein value must start with functionality, because food product development is built around functional ingredients. This could include structured materials delivering ‘bite’, binders that keep products together, or emulsifiers that keep beverages mixed. While there is some innovation in mildly extracting less-refined proteins with more general fractions that can deliver, for example, combined functionalities, this approach would require a radical change in how products are developed. Therefore, with the current product development approach, when you wish to replace an animal-origin ingredient with an alternative, you need to extract a protein ingredient with the functions you desire.

Both value and cost rise with protein functionality. However, the dairy industry shows us that this is not a linear relationship: more functional proteins cost more to extract, but their market value then increases exponentially. Furthermore, it is possible to optimise the full value of a protein source through sequential purification of proteins.