The surging plant protein category presents new horizons for grain-based foods. Capitalizing on that opportunity will depend on choosing the right mix of plant protein sources.

Protein sourced from wheat is compatible with baked foods. Protein from nuts, including almonds, offer a pleasing taste and texture. Some of the highest quality of plant protein comes from legumes, including pulses. Soy has a perfect score of 1.0 in the PDCAAS (protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score).

Ingredient suppliers cite data validating the idea that plant proteins are likely to remain popular.

Chicago, Illinois, US-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) listed plant-based foods expanding beyond the bun as one of its top five trends for 2021. The forecast was based on research from the company’s proprietary OutsideVoice consumer insights platform. Ready-to-eat protein snacks could become more popular as could plant-based seafood and cheese alternatives.

“The flexitarian lifestyle is expanding across all categories in the food and beverage industry, including grain-based foods,” said Jacquelyn Schuh, product marketing director, wholesome nutrition and alternative proteins for ADM. “ADM OutsideVoice research finds that among US flexitarian consumers, 59% are approaching the flexitarian lifestyle by trying to add more plant-based foods and beverages to their diets — indicating a positive approach to the plant-protein lifestyle versus removing animal proteins from their diets. This growing interest in plant-forward food is largely due to consumers taking a more proactive, holistic approach to their health and wellness, and they are looking to wholesome nutrition from plant protein sources to fill this need.”

When seeking grain-based foods as a source of plant protein, consumers are looking for items that contain seeds, peas, beans, pulses, cereals and ancient grains, said Paula LaBine, marketing director, baking, milling and starch for ADM.

“Grain-based offerings like bread, tortillas, pastas and snack foods that incorporate more of these plant-based ingredients will continue to grow in popularity in the new year as consumers look for health-forward products,” she said.

The ADM OutsideVoice research found that in the United States, 92% of plant protein consumers said the source of plant protein in applications is either very important or somewhat important to them. Factors such as health, safety and taste form their perceptions of different types of plant protein.

“Overall, our research finds that nuts, seeds, cereals and beans are all rated positively in these categories,” Ms. Schuh said.

DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, a business of DuPont, invested in plant proteins this year by launching Danisco Planit, a range of functional ingredients and application expertise for food and beverages made with a sustainable approach.

“Planit is predominantly focused on dairy and meat alternative plant-based foods,” said Nick Ferraro, marketing manager for DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. “However, it does cover grain-based foods such as sweet goods, bread and rolls, and nutrition bars/snacks.”

Global snack bar launches featuring claims of high or added protein accounted for 33% of all snack bar launches in 2019, up from 17% in 2015, according to Mintel. Kerry, which has a US office in Beloit, Wisconsin, US, cited the Mintel data in its report focusing on protein in snack bars.

Low water-binding proteins such as sunflower, rice proteins, caseinates and milk proteins may be used to develop a short/firm texture in bars, according to Kerry. Intermediate water-binding proteins such as whey, pea and soy protein improve cohesiveness and chewiness. High water-binding proteins, including hydrolyzed proteins, may be used in high-protein bars in which extra chewiness is desired.

Wheat’s compatibility

Wheat protein is a preferred source of protein in grain-based foods such as bread. Photo courtesy of Manildra Group USA.

Processing challenges are few when working with wheat protein.

“Wheat protein is a preferred source of protein in grain-based food applications because it provides the ideal structure, texture and mouthfeel for grain-based items,” said Brook Carson, vice president of research and development for Manildra Group USA, Leawood, Kansas, US. “With wheat proteins you do not have to be concerned with changes in absorption, rheology or texture in the finished product.

“Wheat protein can actually support the rheology and processing of grain-based foods as protein content is increased. Manildra’s range of GemPro proteins meets the demands of protein addition with functionality that provides either increased elasticity or increased extensibility. The versatility of this range means that one could use wheat as a plant-based protein to boost protein content in products ranging from bread and bagels to cookies and cakes, while still maintaining the optimum product attributes.”

She said using wheat protein along with other sources of protein may allow formulators to achieve claims of “good source of protein” or “excellent source of protein.”

MGP Ingredients, Atchison, Kansas, US, offers wheat protein ingredients under its Arise brand.

“Wheat protein has unique characteristics that are difficult to replace by other proteins,” said Ody Maningat, PhD, chief science officer and vice president of ingredient solutions R&D for MGP Ingredients. “Bakery products, especially yeast-leavened products, require the functionality of wheat proteins. MGP’s Arise wheat protein isolates have several functions: increase elasticity of dough, reduce mix time, increase extensibility of dough, reduce proof time, or enhance volume of bread.

“These specialty proteins provide nutritional and functional benefits that include increasing protein content (especially in low-carb or keto breads), delivering better eating quality in baking applications, and improving efficiency during machining and dough production. Additionally, they allow for soft texture during storage of breads and maintain good rollability scores in flour tortilla products.”

Arise wheat protein isolates have been shown to partially replace egg white in pasta. Wheat protein in this case imparts firmness and reduces cooking loss, he said. As a component of predust for coated foods, wheat protein also may partially replace egg white powder. In wheat noodles, wheat proteins have led to improvements in texture scores for hardness, springiness, and chewiness.

“In conventional bakery, pasta and noodle products, the usage level of Arise wheat protein isolates can range from 0.5% to 4%,” he said. “Therefore, a ‘good source’ or ‘excellent source’ of protein claim is not achievable. However, with high-protein, high-fiber bakery products as in low-carb or keto products, it is possible to attain the above protein claims.”

Low protein quality is a limitation for wheat. The published PDCAAS value of wheat protein ranges from 0.25 to 0.42, Maningat said.

One is the perfect number

Soy protein and pea protein work well in grain-based foods, Ferraro of DuPont said.

“We have seen some brands use nuggets for an added crunch in grain-based foods, including using cocoa nuggets to mimic the look of chocolate chunks or pieces while still providing high protein levels,” Ferraro said. “For added protein without the crunch such as a leavened bread, we have seen brands use soy and pea isolate, which maintains the look and feel of a flour that can be worked in to create high protein levels.”

He added soy has a PDCAAS perfect score of 1.0.

“To obtain an excellent or good source of protein using a plant-based source that is not soy or pea is going to be very expensive for the brand and rarely, if ever, done,” Ferraro explained.

MGP Ingredients launched ProTerra, a line of textured proteins, in April. ProTerra expanded the company’s portfolio with a new textured pea protein that joined the textured wheat proteins, formerly known as TruTex. The pea protein in the ProTerra line is a textured pea protein designed for use in plant-based meat alternatives, Maningat said.

The distinct taste and color of pea protein may present challenges for product developers, LaBine said.

“Our award-winning ProFam pea protein has a neutral flavor and light color, delivering superior taste and sensory experiences to plant protein formulations,” she said. “ProFam pea protein is especially ideal for enriching extruded grain-based snack applications with added protein.”

Jeff Gelski is senior editor of Milling & Baking News, sister publication of World Grain. He may be reached at [email protected].