Clara Foods has unveiled the first animal-free pepsin for commercial use, the company said in a statement. Ingredion, its market partner for North America, will distribute the product globally.
The pepsin also is antibiotic- and hormone-free, along with being vegan, kosher and halal. This makes it suitable for a range of dietary restrictions. While it has the same functionality as animal-derived pepsin, Clara Foods said its product offers tighter quality control, price stability and sustainability.
As consumers increasingly shift to plant-based diets, the new animal-free pepsin could provide food companies with more flexibility in developing products.
As one of the oldest known enzymes, pepsin is getting a makeover to meet consumers' needs as they seek out animal-free options.
Pepsin has been used as an ingredient in food products, including chewing gum, cheeses, and to provide whipping qualities to gelatin and soy protein. Traditionally, commercial pepsin has been sourced from the stomach lining of pigs. This has presented food manufacturers with supply and demand challenges.
In China — a major supplier of pig products — outbreaks of African swine fever have been sweeping through herds, forcing farmers to cull the animals as a precaution. In 2019, about 200 million pigs, or about one half of China's pig herd, were wiped out as a result, according to Reuters. Pork prices have been hitting record highs thanks to rising retail demand and COVID-related supply-chain disruptions.
Meanwhile, consumer demand for animal-free food options is growing. Sales of plant-based foods increased by 90% during the height of pandemic grocery shopping. Plant-based meat saw an even bigger 148% spike, according to a study conducted by the Plant Based Foods Association, and reported by VegNews. With no animal-free pepsin options, food manufacturers have been limited in developing products such as gums that are also vegan-friendly.
According to Clara Foods, its animal-free pepsin has stable production costs. This allows it to avoid the same supply issues as the pig-sourced version. It also said its pricing is competitive.
To make the animal-free pepsin, the manufacturer said it taps a similar technology used to create rennet for cheese-making and heme for plant-based burgers. The process involves isolating the DNA sequence that encodes for the same protein as pig-derived pepsin. It then uses fermentation and yeast to create the final product. Clara Foods said its fermentation technology uses a fraction of the water and land and emits far less greenhouse gases than current large-scale factory farms.
The animal-free pepsin builds on Clara Foods' work in the plant-based space. It has unveiled a chicken-free egg white that can be used in supplements and protein shakes. It has the same texture, taste and functionality as the animal egg. Clara Foods also has developed a chicken-free egg protein for baking.
The animal-free pepsin also marks the advancement of Clara Foods' partnership with Ingredion, which has served as a major investor. Ingredion is helping to develop, market and distribute highly functional protein ingredients to increase protein levels and lower costs without using products from animals. In 2019, Ingredion also invested $140 million to build manufacturing plants to create protein isolates from peas and other pulse-based flours and concentrates. And in 2020, it took full ownership of plant-based protein maker Verdient Foods.
With the debut of the animal-free pepsin, Clara Foods said its next big step is the commercialization of animal-free egg proteins. It has set a goal to become the world’s largest supplier of egg protein by 2028.