- Israeli ingredients company Equinom is partnering with Mexican seed producer and exporter Dipasa to develop a high-protein sesame seed and concentrate targeted at the plant-based foods market, according to a press release emailed to Food Dive. Equinom will use its AI-powered technology to breed higher-protein sesame seeds that Dipasa will process and distribute.
- Sesame seeds have a relatively low protein content of 23% compared to other plant-based protein sources like soy and peas that have around 70% protein as a concentrate, according to the press release. The partners plan to create a sesame seed concentrate, Smarter Sesame Protein, with 65% to 70% protein content.
- The global sesame seed market could reach $17.77 billion by 2025 due to increasing demand as a functional ingredient in plant-based foods, according to Equinom. Food manufacturers have been exploring different plant-based protein options as they work to achieve a texture, taste and nutritional profile that meets consumers' needs.
In the race to identify promising plant-based proteins, sesame seeds have not made a strong showing compared to staples like soy, peas, and rapeseed due to their lower protein content. The seeds have an attractive neutral flavor profile, however, which could pique some food manufacturers' interest when it comes to developing product formulations.
Sesame seeds also have a promising nutritional profile including lignans and phytosterols, which are cholesterol-lowering plant compounds, according to Harvard Medical School. They’re also a good source of calcium and magnesium, which may help control blood pressure, as well as healthy unsaturated fats.
But with such a low protein content, convincing manufacturers to swap out staples like soy or peas for sesame can be a tough sell. Quality has also been an issue in sesame seeds, resulting in most of the crop being crushed to make cooking oil or used in baked goods.
Equinom is hoping to use its AI-powered seed breeding platform to identify promising non-GMO varieties that offer a competitive protein content. Founded eight years ago, the company uses bioinformatics-based approaches and traditional crossbreeding techniques to create seed and legume varieties on a faster timeline. It already specializes in targeting the plant-based foods segment, which means it has an understanding of the attributes that food manufacturers want in terms of nutritional content, flavor profile and high yield.
Recently, it worked with PepsiCo subsidiary Sabra to develop sesame seeds with the right flavor and texture for tahini, for example, which is one of the main ingredients in hummus. It’s already developed mechanically harvestable sesame seed varieties with more oil content and is developing high-protein non-GMO soybeans that offer better taste and a more attractive nutritional profile, according to the company.
With a stronghold in the global sesame seed market, Dipasa brings deep sesame seed industry expertise and ties, which offers Equinom a built-in base for the seeds it plans to develop as well as processing capabilities.
Unlike some other plant-based protein sources, however, sesame seeds pose some allergen risks, which may cause concern. President Joe Biden signed legislation last month naming sesame as the ninth major food allergen. Products containing sesame must bear an allergen warning label starting on January 1, 2023. About 1.6 million Americans or 0.46% of the population are potentially allergic to sesame, according to research published in JAMA. It is also listed as a major allergen in Europe, the Middle East, Canada and Australia, which means international manufacturers should be familiar with additional labeling requirements.
That said, soy, which is one of the leading plant-based protein sources, is also listed as one of the nine major allergens. But that hasn’t stopped food companies from folding it into their product formulations in products like milk and plant-based protein.