Abundant plant protein extracted for food application

NIZO researchers have developed a technology to make the most abundant plant protein in the world available for food applications while maintaining its nutritional and functional properties.

RuBisCo, the most abundant protein in the world, present in every “green” plant can now be extracted as a protein ingredient for the food market. NIZO food research has developed an extraction method resulting in a colorless protein isolate having an excellent solubility.

Earlier research[1] has shown that RuBisCo combines good nutritional properties with a good techno-functional performance. Until now the main challenge was to develop a food-grade extraction process maintaining these properties and providing a colorless powder which can be applied in food at large scale.

With an ever growing world population and increasing demand for high nutrition foods, there is an enormous pressure on the food production system to fulfill this demand while keeping the environmental impact as low as possible. Plant proteins are known to be more sustainable than animal proteins and more cost effective[2,3]. (Partly) replacing animal protein in existing products with (new) plant protein ingredients or developing new plant protein based products may contribute to an efficient use of available proteins.

Food processors only change to new protein ingredients in their products when this does not negatively affect product liking (taste, texture) and gives benefits in attributes/terms like costs, image, health, taste and texture. In practice, new plant protein ingredients struggle to establish a position on the market because they often score less on one or more of the relevant attributes compared to animal based proteins.

Dr Laurice Pouvreau, Dr Arno Alting and Dr Fred van de Velde initiated and developed the new extraction process. “After laboratory testing we knew we could solve the green colour and solubility issues,” says L. Pouvreau. “These attributes are considered negative and  prevented its use by industry” adds Alting. “We have scaled up the process and tested it at semi-industrial scale in our food-grade Processing Centre” concludes van de Velde. “We know now that the technology is ready to be implemented by industry”.

Ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase oxygenase, most commonly known by the shorter name RuBisCO,[4] is an enzyme that catalyzes the first major step of carbon fixation, a process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide and water is converted to energy-rich molecules such as glucose, using sunlight. In green parts of plants, the protein RuBisCo can make up to 50% of total amount of the protein fraction.

NIZO food research has filed a patent application for the extraction process of RuBisCo from green plants that results in a protein ingredient that has maintained its techno-functional properties, such as solubility and gelling behavior.
[1] Barbeau & Kinsella, Food Reviews International, 4, 93-127, 1988
[2] H. Aiking, J. de Boer and J. Vereijken (editors) Sustainable protein production and consumption: Pigs or peas? Springer (Dordrecht, The Netherlands), 2006.
[3] FAO rapport, Lifestock’s long shadow Environmental issues and options By: Henning Steinfield, Pierre Gerber, Tom Wassenaar, Vincent Castel, Mauricio Rosales, Cees de Haan, Rome, 2006, ISBN 92-5-105571-7
[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RuBisCO