When searching for protein ingredients, bakers can choose from a growing toolbox of options. There are whole food plant proteins, including specialty grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, as well as protein isolates obtained from these foods. A side perk with using whole-food plant proteins is that other nutrients often get boosted at the same time. Plus, many bring interesting colors, flavors and textures to the finished product.

“Our purple corn is a good example of a functional plant-based protein providing a high level of antioxidant power while being minimally processed and clean label,” said Tara Froemming, marketing coordinator, Healthy Food Ingredients. “The natural purple color allows for visual appeal without adding synthetic colors or dyes.”

Purple corn is available in many ingredient forms, including flour, meal, grits and flakes. It may be used in artisan bread, bars, cereals and crackers.

Combining nutrient-rich grains like quinoa, amaranth, teff, rye, barley and spelt with pulses like lentils, chickpeas and dried peas is an increasingly common approach to boost the protein content of baked foods.

“Grains are generally lacking a couple of essential amino acids, such as lysine and threonine,” said Angela Ichwan, senior director and technical solutions, The Annex by Ardent Mills. “By adding pulses, which lack methionine, a product developer will create a product that has all nine essential amino acids. Both grains and pulses are available in multiple forms, such as flour, flakes, whole seed, crisps and individual quick frozen, which can be incorporated into everything from bread and muffins to cookies, crackers, flatbreads and more.”

Grains and pulses also may be matched to optimize taste in specific applications.

“Chickpeas, for example, are described as beany or nut-like, while amaranth is earthy or peppery,” said Laurie Scanlin, research and development culinary manager, Ardent Mills. “Pairing these two in a low-moisture food, such as a baked savory snack, can offer a unique pretzel-like taste.”

For the most part, pulse-based flours and proteins are broadly applicable in baked foods.

“We have successfully incorporated them into bread, tortillas, sweet goods, fillings and more,” said Yeni Pena, project lead, technical service U.S. and Canada ingredient solutions, Ingredion, Inc.

Limitations are application specific, she added. It can get challenging to process protein-enhanced baked foods when bakers exceed 10 grams of protein per serving when using pulse concentrate ingredients.

“Alternatively, pea protein isolate or a combination with a pulse concentrate can be better options for high protein levels,” she said.

At IFT18, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual conference and expo, Ingredion showcased its recently launched pea protein isolate sourced from yellow peas, which has a minimum protein content of 80%. Prototypes sampled included toasted rye ramen noodles and vegetarian protein-enhanced poppy seed buns.

Nutriati, Inc., and PLT Health Solutions, Inc. teamed up to offer a chickpea-based protein concentrate. The small, uniform particle size of the ingredient provides enhanced dissolution and suspension properties, excellent foaming and emulsification. This renders it suitable for all types of snacks as well as leavened bread, flatbreads and pastries.

Nuts are also a viable alternative. Blue Diamond Almonds’ Global Ingredients Division rolled out almond protein powder, which provides a source of fiber, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese and copper, as well as potassium and calcium. The powder has a fine texture, smooth mouthfeel and a neutral flavor.

The protein trend isn’t likely to slow for some time. Finding ways to incorporate all types of the nutrient can help any baker looking for a differentiator. Plant proteins, specifically, can do more than just provide a “good source” of protein label claim.

“Some additional benefits of (some plant) proteins include emulsification and emulsion stability, gluten-free formulating, vegetarian and vegan friendly, and they provide a protein alternative to the major eight allergens,” said Karen Constanza, principal technologist, technical development at Ingredion.

The challenge with certain plant proteins is that some of these plants are still niche and not grown widely. Others are imported, which brings additional challenges in terms of tariffs and supply and demand.

“Flavor has also traditionally been a hurdle for pulse-based ingredients, but clean-taste technologies have helped make these ingredients more broadly applicable,” said Chris Thomas, principal technologist, technical service, Ingredion.

Another concern, and one that is of increasing importance, is transparency.

“As consumers demand to know where ingredients come from, how farmers grow them and how they are processed, it is more challenging to find local growers who can provide visibility throughout the supply chain and maintain transparency with each ­stakeholder along the way,” Ichwan said.

Beyond the formulation considerations, transparency helps tell the story behind a product and its ingredients and creates trust between consumers and their favorite products.