There’s more than one way to eat plant protein. There are shakes and sport drinks, plant-based meats, milk replacements, sweet and savory protein snacks and many more besides.
The protein in each food type behaves differently. Even if it all came from the yellow pea.
How can one plant protein do so much? It’s all about protein functionalities.
“You wouldn’t expect your milk to behave the same way that an egg or meat does,” says Jennifer Kimmel, a protein chemist who works on NUTRALYS® plant proteins with Roquette’s R&D group. “Part of my job is to develop new pea protein offerings that have new and unique functionalities.”
There’s a lot that we can do to adapt the way protein from a pea performs. But not every possibility is on the table.
“Roquette truly prides itself on having a simple and patented separation method to obtain NUTRALYS® protein,” Kimmel says. “We’re not doing anything that I, as a cook, wouldn’t do in my own kitchen.
But we have a lot of levers we can pull to adapt the properties of our ingredients.”
Here are four major ways an R&D team can adjust processing to develop new properties of plant protein ingredients.
- Adjust the heat. “Temperature plays a large role in protein structure,” Kimmel says, “and protein structure will direct its function.”
- Change the PH. Increase the acidity of milk, and you can make cheese – a nutritionally similar food, but with a very different functionality and texture. Plant protein also works that way: Change the PH and you can change the function, too.
- Apply shear. Cut it, whip it, smash it, extrude it – physical shear can change the shape and air content of a protein product, giving it a different texture and function.
- Use fractionation methods. “We can separate protein from other plant components using membranes,” Kimmel says. “It’s a very gently process.”
The techniques above, in combination, offer almost infinite possibilities for protein processing and ingredient function. It’s the specific way they’re combined that keeps a protein chemist’s job interesting – and makes resulting ingredients uniquely useful.
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