Sesame protein (concentrate and isolate) was tested by T.A. El-Adawy in 1995 for ability to incorporate into wheat bread. Results indicated that up to 18 percent sesame protein isolate and up to 16 percent sesame protein concentrate could replace wheat flour without unfavorable bread sensory results.
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In addition, the December 2016 edition of Culinology magazine predicts seaweed “to make waves” in 2017. According to a 2014 article published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, researchers working with C. Fitzgerald, et al., in Ireland and the U.K. were able to add up to 4 percent red seaweed protein hydrolystate to bread made from wheat flour.
Formulation and Labeling Challenges
Formulating a high protein, wheat-based, bakery product is not easy. Gluten is formed in dough with the addition of water and mixing. Workable, soft dough is created when gluten is fully hydrated and developed. Added non-gluten proteins will compete for water with the gluten proteins and also interrupt the dough matrix. Usually, to reach a developed dough, an increase in water absorption is necessary, as well as mix time and speed. Jay Fernandez, regional baked goods specialist for Reiser, suggests autolysing of the cereal flour may be necessary to allow all proteins the ability to become fully hydrated. The volume of high protein bakery products will most likely be reduced. This is sometimes counteracted by addition of vital wheat gluten or possibly increasing the yeast. One also needs to bear in mind that some pulse flours may affect the product’s sensory profile.
Another consideration when substituting plant proteins for animal proteins, or even when substituting one plant protein for another, is the potential for introducing a new allergen into a food product. Wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts are well-known plant-based allergens that are identified by regulation. Manufacturers should understand that adding wheat gluten, soy protein, or almond flour, for example, into a product will introduce a known allergen and consumers will need to be alerted to that fact through proper allergen labeling.
Another potential concern that may be overlooked is allergen cross-reactivity, which occurs when a person who is allergic to one protein has an allergic reaction to similar proteins from other sources. Many of the novel sources of alternative plant protein that are being investigated are legumes. These include chickpeas, lentils, peas, beans, and lupin. Soy and peanut are also legumes and scientists have documented instances of cross-reactive allergic reactions between different legumes. In particular, individuals with a peanut allergy may be at greater risk of having an allergic reaction to chickpeas and lentils. In fact, researchers have suggested lentils and chickpeas may be almost as allergenic as peanuts and soybeans.
There is no requirement for allergen labeling of plant-protein ingredients that are not derived from wheat, soy, peanut, or tree nuts. However, given the possibility for cross-reactivity, manufacturers may wish to consider voluntarily labeling products, particularly if they contain other legume-based proteins. For example, a manufacturer could voluntarily add a label statement such as, “Contains chickpea. Chickpea is a legume related to peanuts and soy.” Manufacturers should note that because such a label statement is voluntary, it would not be considered part of any required allergen labeling by the FDA. Thus, it would be best to add it to the label as a stand-alone statement and it should be located on the label such that it would not be considered disallowed “intervening material.”
Although the use of alternative plant-based proteins may present food manufacturers with challenges related to formulation, functionality, and possible allergen concerns, clearly they can also offer many potential advantages and opportunities in creating products that attract millennials. Existing products can be enhanced with proteins that consumers see as healthy and sustainable—even exotic. Products can be crafted using only plant-based ingredients to appeal to consumers who want to eat more vegan or vegetarian foods. More broadly, these new plant-based proteins offer product developers novel palettes of flavors, functional properties, and amino acid profiles. By so doing, they open up additional avenues for creating healthy, appealing, and innovative foods made from a variety of crops with long and varied histories of cultivation across the globe. It’s likely the recent increase in the development and use of plant-based proteins in the U.S. is no mere fad, but rather a natural fit for an increasingly interconnected world.