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New and healthier products pushing the protein shift

Increasingly more people are calling this the era of the protein shift. If we are serious about reducing climate impact and conserving natural resources, we must cut meat consumption and eat more plant-based foods. If the protein shift is to be both viable and sustainable, we need not only to learn more about how different products affect the environment and the climate, but also to get more attractive and highly nutritious products to market. 

Burgers, sausages and mince – made from soya, peas and beans. Today, we increasingly come across vegetarian options when browsing the chilled and frozen food supermarket sections. At least when visiting larger stores. And it is these burgers and other products similar to meat, known as meat analogues, that are popular with many consumers wanting to eat more vegetarian food. 

“We want to eat food that’s familiar, that we know how to cook and that tastes and feels like meat when chewed,” says Evelina Höglund, a researcher within Food Product Design at RISE. 

Höglund and her colleagues are striving to understand how plant-based proteins – primarily those found in peas and beans – behave together with fibre and other components. This knowledge is required to be able to create a fibrous texture resembling that of meat, since texture is just as important as taste.

Increased interest in Swedish ingredients 

“Many existing meat analogues are based on soya protein because it has practical properties, so there’s a wide range of soya-based ingredients on the market. We’ve also noticed an increasing interest in switching to Swedish ingredients, such as peas and beans. Although we produce a great deal of legumes in Sweden, we haven’t had any industries making ingredients from them. But we’re starting to see that now, which is positive,” says Höglund. 

As more plant-based products enter the market, we also see increasing interest in the nutritional quality of the burgers, sausages and mince made from them. 

Susanne Bryngelsson is a project manager at RISE with a focus on sustainable nutrition: 

“Some vegetarian products use fat sources that aren’t the most optimal when it comes to nutrition. They provide a good texture, but the end product isn’t particularly healthy. There are great opportunities to make a difference by choosing other ingredients. Salt content is also something that we look at.” 

Difficult for the body to absorb iron 

She underlines the fact that some nutrients found in these products may be bound or present in forms that the body is unable to use.  

“For example, many plant-based proteins contain high levels of phytic acid, which makes it difficult for the body to absorb iron.” 

Experience has taught Bryngelsson the importance of considering nutritional aspects at an early stage in the development projects that RISE pursues. One example is the Like:Meat project, which uses a fermentation process to increase nutritional quality. This technique helps, for example, by reducing phytic acid content. Like:Meat is funded by Vinnova and coordinated by RISE, with Lantmännen and Orkla as partners. 

There are great opportunities to make a difference by choosing other ingredients

Improved taste with mixed crops 

Back to Evelina Höglund. In her work, she has noticed the benefits of mixing different crops. For instance, in a project to develop a gluten-free pasta, Höglund and her colleagues mixed blue lupin with broad bean. This resulted in a better-tasting pasta than when using a single crop. 

“Another smart move is to mix legumes with cereals as they contain different types of amino acids, which can then complement one another,” Höglund explains. 

This summer saw the publication of the first systematic analysis of the nutritional quality of meat analogues on the Swedish market. It showed that while meat analogues generally have low saturated fat content and relatively high fibre content, they also have high salt content. The study was conducted within the FINEST project, which is funded by Formas with RISE as the coordinating partner. 

How RISE can support the development of products from vegetable proteins  

Protein shift is a relatively new term in the Swedish language, first appearing in the Language Council of Sweden’s new word list in 2016. In brief, this shift involves a transition from animal to vegetable proteins. 

In its sustainable protein projects, RISE is able to go from detailed lab studies to prototype development. 

“We have the necessary expertise and equipment and would be happy to help more companies work with new ingredients to create the products consumers want. One successful method we use is extrusion, which involves texturising the protein ingredients to achieve the right consistency and mouthfeel,” Höglund ends.

Evelina Höglund

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Evelina Höglund

Forskare Livsmedel Produktdesign

+46 10 516 66 19

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Susanne Bryngelsson

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Susanne Bryngelsson


+46 10 516 67 88

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