The protein evolution

We live in a country that is a study in contradictions. As of April 2022, the ‘extreme’ poverty line is R663 per person per month – the minimum amount of money that an individual needs to afford the minimum required daily energy and nutrient intake.

As a result, malnutrition is on the rise. In contrast, the high Living Standards Measure (LSM) groups are focused on the ‘High Protein, Low Carbohydrate’ nutrition trend, which can be costly to one’s pocket and to the environment. There is also the emerging trend of plant-based and alternative proteins. For these reasons, scientists are searching for new, cost-effective protein sources, such as plant-based vegetable proteins, fermentation sources, insects, and cell-cultivated meat.

What the regulations say about protein claims and amino acid profiles

The regulations state that to make a ‘source of protein’ claim, a product must contain 5g of protein per 100g of product (or 2.5g per 100ml for liquids). In addition, the product must contribute 2.5g protein per 418kJ of energy. The rationale is to ensure that protein is a significant contributor to the energy content of the product.

The challenge with making a protein claim using plant sources is in fulfilling the amino acid requirements stated in the regulations. Vegetable and plant-based proteins often have missing or low quantities of certain amino acids. Therefore, an innovative approach must be taken in which protein sources are selected and combined effectively to create a full amino acid profile able to meet the requirements of the regulations.

At the same time, it is important to consider the bioavailability of the amino acids. Soya, as an example, is an inexpensive complete protein; however, it contains anti-nutritional factors that hinder the digestion of protein – unless the soya has been fermented.

New protein sources, and ways to apply them in our daily diet

Sources of protein have diversified over the last few years to include raw produce, powdered or dry products, nut butters, snack bars, liquids, plant-based products and other meat analogues.

Legumes such as peas and certain bean varieties are available locally, as well as fruit, hemp, oats and vegetables such as spinach, kale. These produce items can be used by manufacturers as ingredients in the formulation of plant-based protein products.

Eating insects is not a new phenomenon. It’s been done for centuries, all over the world – especially in the East; in Western culture, there is an aversion to eating insects. Currently, insects as a food source do not fall within the scope of the regulations; but with the increase in demand for alternate sources of protein, the regulations may need to be rewritten. Studies show consumers are more likely to try insect-containing products if they are tasty and appealing and included in frequently eaten foods. This calls for innovation in product development, such as using cricket flour as a replacement for rice, wheat flour in bread, or creating chocolate truffles out of pulverised mealworms – the possibilities are endless.

Cultured meat is making headlines as the future of meat analogues; it’s genuine animal meat or seafood, grown using cells cultivated from animals or fish. It is designed to replicate the sensory profile of conventionally processed meat, as it’s composed of the same cell types as animal muscle tissue. It was first introduced in Singapore, still the only country where cell-cultured meat is available commercially – although many other countries have recently begun taking more interest in cell-cultured meat.


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