Innovation for the protein evolution

Protein, a cornerstone nutrient traditionally associated with meat, can be just as effectively sourced from various alternatives. But what do the regulations say about protein claims?

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With increased demand for more sustainable protein sources, the meat-alternative and plant-based industries are growing rapidly. New technologies provide industry with the opportunity for innovation; however, industry should bear in mind the potential drawbacks – such as (expected) allergenicity, expense, ethical and legal considerations, and consumer acceptance – while also aiming to achieve the desired nutritional benefits. Protein is an essential nutrient associated with meat that can equally and easily be provided by several alternatives.

What the regulations say about protein claims

The regulations (R. 146) 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), and 2.5g protein per 418kJ of energy. In addition, the product should contain at least 100% of the reference amino acids as per Annexure 5 of the regulations. The amino acid profile of a product is therefore an important consideration during product development.

Comparison of protein sources

Plant-based:

  • Depending on the formulation, a product consisting only of legumes, grains and/or vegetables may not contain enough protein to be comparable to a meat product. To give some perspective, an average 100g of beef steak contains roughly 21g of protein; fresh garden peas, a vegetable high in protein,  provide 5.9g protein per 100g; and soya contains about 10.7g per 100g.
  • Plant-based proteins often have missing or low quantities of certain amino acids. Therefore, to fulfil the amino acid requirements for a protein claim, focus should be placed on which protein sources are selected and combined effectively. Examples of plant proteins that contain all the essential amino acids (but not necessarily in sufficient amounts) include soya, rice, and yellow pea protein.
  • There may be digestibility factors involved. Soya, as an example, contains anti-nutrients that act as enzyme inhibitors, and thus hinder the digestion of protein and other nutrients – unless the soya has been processed.
  • If you use certain plant sources, you may introduce a common allergen. Examples of such plant sources are soya, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and gluten.

Insects:

  • Compared to the 21g of protein that 100g of beef steak contains, some insects contain anything between 12.1g and 74g of protein per 100g (that’s a lot of insects!). In Western culture there is an aversion to eating insects; however, studies have shown that consumers are more likely to try insect-containing products if they are tasty and appealing and are included in frequently eaten foods.
  • Insects contain chitin, which may reduce protein digestibility
  • Insects may also induce allergic reactions, due to their possible cross-reactivity with crustaceans.

Fermentation:

Fermentation is a way of creating alternative protein sources through:

  • Traditional fermentation (eg tempeh from soya)
  • Biomass fermentation (eg mycoproteins)
  • Precision fermentation produces specific proteins, enzymes, flavour molecules, pigments and fats that can be used in vegan meat or dairy alternatives (eg amino acids, ‘egg white’ proteins, casein and whey in imitation milk products, heme proteins, growth factors and collagen proteins).

Cultured meat:

Singapore is still the only country in the world where cultured meat is available commercially, although many other countries – including South Africa – have embarked on developing such products.

If the aim of a meat alternative is to provide adequate protein, then there are a few challenges to consider. Contact FACTS to assist you to identify all the potential stumbling blocks, or to do theoretical calculations to predict the amino acid profile of your final product.

FACTS SA

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