A full plate of protein sources
"Protein is to diet what black is to fashion. People think it makes you look slimmer and leaner," so a new accolade on protein goes. The rise of protein is a marked trend, and now, thanks to PepsiCo, collagen soon may emerge as a popular ingredient in protein-packed products, while ant eggs may be another protein choice for formulators and restaurant chefs.
Kantha Shelke, PhD, principal at Corvus Blue, a food science and research company, spoke about these and other protein sources at the recent Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 14 symposium in Chicago.
“Americans are gobbling up protein like it’s their last days,” she said. "If consumers see a product contains protein, they may not bother to read the ingredients list or the Nutrition Facts panel. They buy it, they assume it is good for you.”
People assume the protein will keep them full and avoid over eating. Protein promotions may change consumer mindsets from guilt to pride, she said. If moms know an ice cream has protein, they may feed it to their children. “They don’t think of it as a sugar product,” she said.
Collagen, already in many dietary supplements, is an emerging protein source. Shelke said PepsiCo is working on a product that has collagen as an ingredient.
“Once that product is launched, expect an uptake in gelatin and collagen,” Shelke said. “Why? Most people, particularly women, associate collagen with wrinkles going away.”
Protein may come from insects, too. Crickets and mosquito eggs are sources, while a kilogram of grasshoppers has as much protein as 10 hot dogs. Escamoles (left), a dish featuring ant eggs, soon may become a popular delicacy at restaurants. [Escamoles are the larvae of ants of the genus Liometopum. They are harvested from the roots of the Agave cactus. In some forms of Mexican cuisine, escamoles are considered a delicacy and are sometimes referred to as "insect caviar". They have a cottage cheese-like consistency and a buttery, yet slightly nutty, taste.]
“They are limited by off taste, aroma and definitely by consumer ‘squeamish-ness',” she said of insect protein sources.
Formulators often select dairy and eggs as sources of protein, as Greek yogurt sales verify. People have become accustomed to the flavour of dairy or egg, Shelke said. They expect yogurt to have the creamy texture and particular taste profile that comes with milk, which makes it difficult to replace milk with soy milk or rice milk.
Product formulators, however, may like the 30% to 50% difference in the price of plant-based sources versus the price of egg-based or dairy-based sources, she said.
A beany flavour continues to be a detriment for soy protein, while pea proteins are non-bioengineered, but they may have an unwanted beany, grassy flavour. Potato proteins are non-allergenic and gluten-free, but they may come with a supply or price issue.
Shelke said algal proteins may show up first in hunger relief foods since they are inexpensive. These proteins have a bland taste and show promise as replacements for egg proteins.
Shelke advised how industry may improve its promotion of protein ingredients. “I’m amazed at how the food industry names its ingredients,” she said. “Your ingredients sound more like auto parts.” She added the terms isolates and concentrates may turn off people unless they are body builders.
“When are you going to name your ingredients that very quickly tell (consumers) what it is?” she asked.
She added the proliferation of protein sources may have confused product developers and marketers. “Suppliers have done a terrible job confusing their market and their target audience with conflicting information,” Shelke noted.
Protein suppliers often talk about how a competitor’s protein is not as complete as their protein. “There’s plenty of room in the protein business,” Shelke said. “If protein suppliers would support each other, you’d get a much better reception from the product developers.”