Protein Power for Vegetarians

The number of food products and diets launched globally with higher protein content has increased in the recent years. High levels of protein was generally associated with categories like sports nutrition, weight management, infant nutrition etc. However, in the past few years, proteins have become mainstream food ingredients and are being increasingly used in other categories like energy bars, meal replacements,  healthy snacks, yogurt, smoothies etc.

Some of the characteristics of protein that determine its applications in various products are:

  • Nutrition: Amino acid profile, containing all essential amino acids, absorption, digestion etc.
  • Functionality: solubility, stability, viscosity, foaming, transparency, behavior in acidic beverages, texture, moisture retention etc.
  • Clean taste: Neutral flavor, aroma
  • Clean Label: Non-allergen, Non-GMO
  • Processing: Damage to proteins during processing adversely impacts nutritional and functional properties.
  • Price: Cost of production/use


Traditionally animal sourced proteins and soy protein, considered complete proteins, were used in various food applications. Rising cost of animal derived proteins, fear of antibiotic resistance with excessive use of antibiotics in livestock farming, animal welfare concern, and environmental sustainability concerns are driving the food industry to explore new plant-based proteins as an alternative to the established animal-based proteins in the market. Consumer demand for ‘clean’ label (allergen-free, GMO-free) is driving the industry to look for alternatives to soya protein as well. Plant protein sources are also gaining popularity due to the health benefits of plant-based diets in lowering cholesterol and decreasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes; and providing higher fiber than their meat-based counterparts.

Certain consumer groups with diet restrictions such as vegans / vegetarians had limited choices of protein sources in the past. The advent of novel plant protein isolates and algal based protein ingredients and their increasing usage in food products has significantly increased avenues of protein nutrition for these category of consumers. Globally, the use of plant proteins is increasing rapidly with the growth of meat substitute products and the increasedlaunches of plant-based food & beverage launches. Among plant sources, traditionally pulses/ legume crops were preferred choice as sources of proteins considering therelatively higher protein content than crops like cereals& millets. However, now non-traditional sources like cereals (brown rice & wheat) and oilseeds (canola) are also being tapped for isolating proteins (Table. 1). This new trend is driven by the functionality and quality of the isolated protein, and not on the protein content per se in these sources. Plant proteins, in general, fall short of providing a complete amino acid profile. Various plant proteins can be blended to create a complete amino acid profile and to improve taste. For Example, AIDP’s Advantein is a blend of brown rice and pea protein. Micro-algae is also emerging as another source of protein for vegetarians. Algae offers the advantage of high growth rates and shorter batch time, resulting inmore protein per unit area than all other sources. The whole cell algal mass or extract can be used as protein source.  UK based company Quorn usesMycoprotein, produced from naturally occurring fungus through fermentation process,as a protein source in various vegan products.

Table 1. List of Plant Protein ingredients (other than soya) and their commercial suppliers

Protein SourceCompany name
PeaRoquette, Puris, Axiom Foods, BurconNutraScience
Brown RiceAxiom Foods, AIDP
Rice/Pea BlendAIDP
HempAxiom Foods
WheatTereosSyral, MGP Ingredients
Water LentilParabel


Though plant proteins are becoming popular, they still pose some challenges for food manufacturers in product applications. Proteins from different sources have different amino acid profiles (essential amino acids) and digestibility, so 1:1 protein replacement is not feasiblefor all products. Some suppliers blendvarious protein isolates to improve nutritional value or to reduce costs. However, blending/ addition of another plant proteins may negatively impact the textural properties. Some of the plant proteins also have off flavors/ notes. Use of right technology across the value chain is key for alternative proteins business, including plant and algal sources. Protein production (crop genetics to enhance protein quality and yield), protein extraction & processing technologies and effective formulation are critical for extending applications of plant proteins to various food categories and thereby increasing novel plant protein’s viability as a nutrition source. There is also a need for strong application and product development efforts for promoting algal proteins.


In India, higher income led diet diversification, impact of globalization, increasing urbanization and changing lifestyle of people is contributing to the changes in the food consumption pattern. The demand for proteins in India, for food and feed, is expected to increase significantly in the next 5-10 years and there is great opportunity for local industry to foray into plant proteins ingredients business as well as plant protein based food products. Seeing the attractiveness, few Indian players from allied industry segments (like Synthite Industries), are making entry into the plant proteins category.


With improvements in extraction, processing technologies and formulations, the challenges of off-flavor, solubility, texture etc. related to the plant based proteins are expected to be addressed. This will lead to increased incorporation of plant proteins in various food formulations with better organoleptic properties.


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Source: Progressive Grocer December 2018

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