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Pea protein could challenge soy as meat analogue

By Elaine Watson , 21-Sep-2009

Researchers in Canada have produced meat analogues from pea proteins with a fibrous texture closely resembling chicken and fish.

Soy protein-based meat analogues were well established, said Dr Xiangfeng Meng at the government-backed food science and technology program in Brooks, Alberta. However, research into the potential of peas, beans or other pulses for this purpose was still in its infancy.
Owing to the variable quality of some pulse proteins, they often had to be extensively heat treated prior to extrusion, which made them more difficult to texturise, she said. But she and her team had produced a high quality analogue by extruding pea protein isolate (92% protein), vital wheat gluten (80% protein), and potato starch at high moisture levels, she revealed. The work is now being taken forward with a view to potential commercialisation by an undisclosed Canadian firm.
The proteins were effectively ‘melted’ inside an extruder, in which conditions were controlled in such a way as to ensure steady pumping of the protein ‘melt’ from the extruder into a four foot long cooling die, said Meng. “A laminar flow [when a fluid flows in parallel ‘layers’] developed in the cooling die led to the realignment of the protein molecules and the development of the fibrous structure characteristic of a meat analogue.”
Other pulse proteins also had potential for high moisture meat analogues, added Meng. “They need to be high in protein (isolates not concentrates) and solubility (with minimum heat treatment) for successful texturisation.”
The meat analogue market is currently dominated by soy protein and - in the UK at least - quorn (a mycoprotein derived from fermentation of the fungus Fusarium venenatum). However, firms are also experimenting with rape, pea, lupin and potato, while new products combining soy protein, wheat protein and starch are also under development.
As owner of Quorn and Cauldron Foods, Premier Foods is the dominant player in the UK’s £207M meat-free market followed by Hain Celestial, which makes the Linda McCartney range. However, 5.4% sales growth at Quorn in the first half of 2009 was offset by weaker figures at Cauldron. Profits were dented by increased manufacturing costs, primarily as a result of undisclosed “inefficiencies” at the Methwold site - where Quorn is packaged and the Cauldron range is manufactured.
Initiatives such as Paul McCartney’s ‘Meat-free Mondays’ have had mixed success. But continued press coverage of the environmental impact of meat and dairy has created a significant opportunity for firms in vegetable proteins to exploit their green credentials.
A report from the European Natural Soyfood Manufacturers Association this week claimed carbon dioxide emissions from a glass of soymilk were a fifth of those produced by the same volume of cow’s milk. In addition, a tofu-burger accounted for a tenth of the emissions of a beefburger, according to the report.
But peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas, which ‘fixed’ nitrogen from air and effectively created their own fertiliser were greener still and less controversial than soy, claimed Canadian pulse industry body Pulse Canada.

* For more details about applications for pulse fractions, see the October issue of Food Manufacture magazine.