Plant-based proteins are more in demand than ever before. As our society becomes more health conscious and at the same time concerned with the environment, demand for plant-based protein has steadily increased. Specifically, increases in vegan population and health conscious consumers are among the main drivers for plant protein popularity. This has created a need to not only develop more plant-based protein ingredients, but to seek sustainable and environmentally friendly sources.
Coming Together to Grow Research
While there has been some research done on novel proteins, the information is far from being comprehensive and is done in isolation. Some scientists are researching the nutritional quality of peas, others are breeding new dry beans varieties, while others are investigating processing methods for canola. By combining individual efforts and ideas, we can do more and reach attainable goals faster. The PPIC invites scientists both internal and external to the University of Minnesota to be part of a research cohort. Collaboration will empower plant-based protein research by allowing scientists to come together to think beyond their area of focus. Working together will facilitate cross-lab use of high-end instrumentation that can uncover more information than ever before, and will open up larger grant opportunities. Partnering with industry is essential. The PPIC requires the support of key industry players, who are driven to work together towards a better future. Industry partners are protein suppliers, producers, and users, but all having common interests. In addition to individual researchers coming together with industry, partnership with international entities such as the Canadian Consulate and their associated Protein Highway Initiative, other research institutions/centers, commodity groups, entrepreneurs, and government agencies are imperative to the mission and success of the Center. These partnerships ultimately provide research diversity and unique perspectives that lead to innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Identified Plant Protein Challenges and Knowledge Gaps
Protein is a nutrient that has several physiological benefits associated with it, including weight management, supplemental energy, and reduced risk of aging complications and chronic diseases. From an industry perspective, other than cost reductions and attractive environmental and health benefits, producers are seeking functional, non-allergenic protein ingredients that can replace modified ingredients as part of the clean label drive. The demonstration of equivalent or superior/new functionality of novel plant proteins compared to existing alternatives is essential to both the food industry and the consumer. However, there is limited consumer and producer knowledge of plant proteins other than soy. Food producers are seeking information on the nutritional, physiological, flavor, and functional characteristics of plant proteins. There is a need to understand how these novel proteins can partially or wholly replace traditional protein ingredients in various food products to deliver optimal acceptability, nutrition and functionality. Other interests include valorizing by-products by utilizing current processing streams, reducing cost by improving efficiency, enhancing functionality through unique processing, finding a unique and a competitive place in the market, replacing unfamiliar ingredients with functional proteins (clean label), identifying unique applications for different sources of proteins, and utilizing all possible resources to expand the overall ingredients supply.