Project Protein Compass - a systematic overview of the characteristics of plant-based protein ingredients to support more effective and faster decision-making in the development of sustainable food products
Our protein intake is primarily animal based. From a sustainable point of view, the resources needed for animal protein production are too high. Particularly in view of the current population growth and societal trends, such as an increased standard of living. This calls for a transition from animal to plant-based protein and therefore, for the development of new sustainable and healthy food products. The biggest challenge we are facing is the lack of overview and predictability of the intrinsic functional, nutritional and sensorial properties of the protein ingredients on the market, which hampers fast and successful identification of the best plant protein for a specific application.
Within the project Protein Compass, Cargill, DSM, Unilever and WFBR aim to collect and generate a systematic overview of the characteristics of plant-based protein ingredients. Information is brought together in a database containing publicly available information and newly generated data from standardized, preferably high throughput, methods to ensure reliability in comparing data from different sources. This data collection is the start for a comprehensive tool for the food industry in which other data like full nutritional content, CO2 foot prints, sustainability and examples for applications can be added to reach an efficient toolbox to support the industry in more effective and faster development of more sustainable food products.
A reliable database on nutritional, functional and sensorial characteristics has been developed. The database is filled with data from public sources and complemented with experimental data from WFBR, Unilever, Cargill and DSM. Presently the database consists of 64 references with 345 crops/samples, containing 298, 98 and 863 records on nutritional, sensorial and functional properties respectively. In total there are over 40.000 data points entered. Import Excel files to enter data in the database are available. Export PowerPivots are made as an example of how and what data can be extracted from the database.
Standardized methods for anti-nutritional factors were evaluated for phytate, lipase, lipoxygenase and trypsin inhibition. For phytate and lipase commercial assays are available. Phytase analyses is straightforward, lipase analysis show large standard deviation for various protein sources. For lipoxygenase and trypsin inhibitor assays were developed based upon literature. The lipoxygenase method is straightforward in indicating the absence of lipoxygenase, however a large set of dilutions is required to quantify the activity when tested positive. The trypsin inhibitor method can quantify the amount of inhibitor. However some protein samples show inhibition curves indicating more complicated kinetics, requiring testing a wider variety of conditions. All protocols can be automated making use of a pipetting robot.
Standardized methods for techno-functional properties focus on denaturation temperature, particle size distribution, emulsifying capabilities, viscosity and flow behaviour, solubility and gelation. Critical quality parameters were defined and experimentally accessed, for a wide range of plant-based protein sources. Results from well established (benchmark) methods and high throughput protocol and techniques (mainly pipetting robot 96 tips) are being compared. Almost all experiments have been carried out and in the coming period the methods are compared based on suitability for various protein sources, reproducibility and time involved.
Standardized methods for sensorial properties focus on identification and quantification of marker compounds that relate best to the quality parameters measured in sensory evaluation. For this purpose volatile, non-volatile flavour compounds are measured and correlated with sensory evaluations to identify a limited set of compounds and thereby increasing the speed of data analysis. All volatiles freely available in water were measured and for the marker compounds (nonanal and hexanal), also quantification of the total amount in the sample was acquired. A harsh extraction was performed to measure the non-volatile flavour compounds.
Protein Compass finishes in June 2021 and the next step is to demonstrate the applicability of the tools (database management and high throughput procedures). For this purpose a follow-up project is being formulated with a new consortium on dairy-replacers. We want to demonstrate that the database supports the industry in more effective and faster development of sustainable food products.