Parabel USA, Inc., will start commercial production of a water lentil-based protein ingredient by the end of this year. The Florida-based company said in a release its neutral-colored protein is an allergen-free and non-GMO substitute for soy or pea protein in plant-based products.
The ingredient contains 65% to 70% hydrolyzed protein and can be used for the "burgeoning market" of meat substitutes, Parabel said. It also has a complete amino acid profile, the company added.
With plant-based product launches on the increase, Parabel said the demand has created supply issues for quality plant protein ingredients, so manufacturers are seeking out alternatives with required functional and nutritional properties. Water lentils are a sustainable choice because they can be harvested daily. The technology is highly scalable, and no chemicals are used during processing, the company noted.
Water lentils offer a long list of advantages compared to other plant-based protein sources, according to Parabel. The aquatic plant, also known as duckweed, grows quickly in open hydroponic systems and doubles its biomass within 24 to 36 hours. It only takes half an hour to process the ingredient from farm to table, the company said, and it boasts an amino acid profile comparable to whey and superior to soy.
Soy is a common ingredient in protein products such as the Impossible Burger and Nestlé's impending Incredible Burger. But since the vast majority of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified and the Food and Drug Administration is considering revoking its heart-healthy label claim for insufficient scientific proof, consumers may have gnawing questions about it. Soybeans are also one of the FDA's eight major allergens.
Pea protein — used in products including the Beyond Burger, Lightlife Burger, dairy alternatives from Ripple Foods and faux tuna from Good Catch Foods — has become so popular that questions have emerged about future supply and cost. Food manufacturers may want to look into other plant-based protein sources to bolster their products should the price or supply of pea protein become unworkable, and water lentils might be one of them.
There appear to be few disadvantages to water lentils other than their relatively obscurity. Consumers may wonder what they are if, as a company spokeswoman told Food Navigator, product labels indicate "Water lentil (Lemnacae) hydrosylate." Parabel received a "no objections" letter from the FDA last year supporting a generally recognized as safe determination for its water lentil ingredients, Food Navigator noted.
To achieve a neutral color, Parabel removes the vibrant green shade from water lentils through a proprietary enzyme-based process. However, the spokeswoman told Food Navigator the company doesn't use ethanol or acid to do it.
Parabel said last year it is the first company to commercially produce water lentils. The company is now finalizing its second hydroponic farm near Vero Beach, Florida, which will bring production capacity to 3,500 metric tons of plant protein annually. Besides the protein hydrosylate ingredient, Parabel produces flour, concentrates and isolates made from water lentils.
According to Transparency Market Research, the water lentil protein industry, while still developing, is "expected to experience exponential growth in demand due to the increased need of plant based protein around the globe." The report said the European and North American markets are the major contributors to this growth.