Since the 1980s, there has been a steady rise in the number of consumers following a vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian diet, often due to regard for animal welfare. More recently, concerns about the environmental impact of a traditional protein-based diet have spurred even more interest in alternative protein sources.
Methane, which is largely emitted from livestock and manure, has contributed to nearly a third of global warming since the onset of the industrial revolution and has been shown to be 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
At COP26 last year, the US and European Union launched the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% in 2030 compared to 2020 levels. Consequently, the development of more alternative proteins to reduce a reliance on animal proteins is a key factor in driving down methane emissions.
Additionally, as the world’s population continues to grow – with estimates that we will reach 9.7 billion by 2050 – issues of food security and the availability of nutritional products are set to increase. There is an urgent need to source and scale up the processing of alternative proteins from sustainable sources, to complement traditional meat production.
The need for quality
The use of alternative proteins presents an opportunity to add value to the wider food production market, not only in their function of providing much-needed macronutrients to consumer diets, but also in their versatility as a core ingredient.
For example, barley protein can be used in a variety of products from plant-based milks and smoothies to veggie burgers, bread, pasta and more. However, to produce an alternative protein that carries a high nutritional value and provides a commercially viable yield, producers need to consider several aspects in respect of overall functionality. The ability of the protein to act as a beneficial additive ingredient must be combined with binding and cooking properties, the ability to be stored and to withstand variances in temperature as well as the ability to achieve specific taste and aroma profiles.
Filtration optimizes protein products
Potential for degradation and microbial contamination must be examined as proteins can create gels, waxes and other organic materials that must be removed for the functional properties to be preserved. It is imperative that processing includes high quality purification measures to mitigate these risks.
As an example, technology that is used in milk production can also be used in clarifying alternative proteins. In this respect, ceramic multi-channel membranes with an asymmetric structure are ideal for filtering out organic material while withstanding high processing temperatures. For manufacturers, the membranes’ ability to work at high volume without absorbing biological material ensures efficiency and equipment durability.
More facilities, more partnerships
As we continue to see more alternative protein products take their place on the shelf next to traditional animal-protein food, there will be an increased need for commercial-scale manufacturing facilities. Recently Pall Corporation and sustainable ingredient company, EverGrain partnered in creating the first commercial-scale facility dedicated to upcycling barley grains into alternative proteins. The production plant transforms barley used in the brewing process into a high-quality, nutritious, and sustainable protein ingredient for use in other food and beverage products.
EverGrain's new facility utilizes the Pall Membralox® Microfiltration System, which can also be used for other food and beverage production lines, as well as for other industrial sectors.
Partnerships will play a significant role in creating a sustainable supply of plant protein to fill growing consumer demand. As people look to find alternatives to meat and fish proteins, manufacturers will need to invest in technology that ensures that products will be tasty, of highest quality and nutritionally valuable.
By investing in technology to maintain consistent product quality and process reliability in beverage and food production, manufacturers will also benefit from consumer loyalty, waste minimization and a reduction of operating costs.