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Swedish plant-based proteins ― our new everyday food?

Seafood made of seaweed, meat analogues made of peas, oats and gluten, and yeast will be the cornerstones of the protein on our plates in the future. In three projects funded by Vinnova, RISE and industry partners will develop the vegetarian protein sources of the future under the umbrella term Food from the future ― Innovations to support protein shift.

We are in the middle of a food shift where new technology and research develops future sustainable proteins. There is no doubt that the earth´s growing population cannot continue to eat as much meat as before. At the same time, more consumers demand vegetarian alternatives to meat for health. 

The market for protein substitutes increased 16 per cent per year between 2107–2019, according to a report by Macklean for LRF. As a result, the Swedish grocery sales was 862 million SEK in 2019. The strong growth has made the industry launch several plant-based protein products, often based on foreign raw materials.

The market for protein substitutes increased 16 per cent per year between 2107–2019, according to a report by Macklean for LRF. As a result, the Swedish grocery sales was 862 million SEK in 2019. The strong growth has made the industry launch several plant-based protein products, often based on foreign raw materials.

“The projects should develop products for the protein part of the plate model. In other words, no snacks or similar products, but plant-based everyday food in the form of the main course,“ says Sophia Wassén at RISE.

Ocean Bite – seafood made of seaweed

Fish contains proteins that humans absorb easily. Fish is healthy because fish eat seaweed or animals that have eaten seaweed. By eating seaweed instead of fish, we get the valuable proteins directly from the source. As the seaweed is nutritious and has a low climate footprint, it will play an essential role in the sustainable food system of the future. In Sweden, the cultivation of seaweed has begun and, as the seaweed has a minor environmental impact and does not require any fertilizer, the cultivation of seaweed will most certainly expand.

In the project Ocean Bite, RISE will produce seafood based on Swedish seaweed in collaboration with the industrial partner Hooked Foods. The project description states that the project will assess the possibility of producing a new seaweed-based product that benefits from the seaweed’s nutritional profile and manufacture a product that the consumer intuitively can handle.

“This means that we will make a product that mimics fish or shellfish in the structure, which can be used in cooking in the same way as fish. The product should also contain omega-3, just like in seafood,” says Loredana Malafronte at RISE.

However, as seaweed is not part of Swedish consumers’ traditional cooking and food habits in general, there will be a challenge to introduce seaweed in the Swedish diet.

“By the Ocean Bite project, we will revolutionize the view of seaweed by transforming it into the main course. This will broaden the selection of vegan products while supporting the cultivation of seaweed in Sweden,” says Loredana Malafronte.

The project will design lab-scale manufacturing and develop guidelines for upscaling and future product development. In addition, the knowledge gained will improve the understanding of how to use seaweed on an industrial scale.

“This is a feasibility study, where we will see if it is possible to develop an excellent seafood product from seaweed. In this project, the aim is not to put this product into real production, but the result will be feasible to be upscaled,” says Loredana Malafronte.

Rise is the project leader in collaboration with the industrial partner Hooked Foods. Researchers from RISE will design the lab-scale process for the seagrass-based product. In addition, hooked Foods will perform sensory characterization of the product prototypes and evaluate their potential as consumer products.

Second-generation plant-based meat analogues

Consumers find the plant-based meat analogues on the market cannot fully compete with the meat’s structure and taste. Another problem with meat analogues is that although they have a similar protein and calorie content as traditional meat, their iron content is lower.

With the industrial partners Orkla Food Sweden and Lantmännen, RISE will solve this in the project Like: meat. Together they will develop plant-based meat analogues from laboratory scale to pilot scale and finally industrial, large-scale production.

We will create a veggie steak that consumers like, which tastes better and has good chewing resistance

The industry is now investing in new production facilities for vegetarian production ― something previously missing in Sweden, which has meant that Swedish raw materials could not be guaranteed. This project will thus be possible to carry out the entire production in Sweden entirely on Swedish plant-based proteins. The raw materials will consist of peas, gluten and oats.

“We will try to produce a healthier and tastier meat-like product based entirely on Swedish raw materials. We will achieve the improvements through a carefully designed mixture of proteins from legumes and grains, mild processing and fermentation that provides favourable digestion and good amino acid composition, and increased bioavailability of nutrients,” says Mats Stading, who leads the project.

Peas and oats have high iron content, although it is not as high as animal products. However, the human body cannot absorb it to the same extent as the iron found in meat. Iron uptake can be improved by fermentation, though.

“The fermentation of legumes reduces the iron uptake inhibiting substances and the number of oligosaccharides, creating gases and stomach problems for many people. At the same time, the fermentation process can reduce unwanted flavours and the amount of starch in the product, “says Mats Stading.

The food industry uses extrusion to get the proper structure on meat analogues which means that high-protein flour of oats or peas is melted and pressed out through a nozzle under high temperature and stirring. During the process, the raw material is converted into a liquid mass that forms meat-like fibres, much like chicken. The Like: meat project includes modifying this process for getting the texture even more like meat.

“We will try to create a veggie steak that consumers like, which tastes better and has good chewing resistance,” says Mats Stading.

RISE is the project manager for the entire project, which runs until October 2023. The plant-based products will be Swedish with Swedish raw materials and protein extraction and processing. The project aims to produce a new generation of meat analogues that are healthier, tastier and more attractive plant-based meat-like products.

Yeast ― protein source of the future?

The third project funded by Vinnova in which RISE participates investigates yeast as a new protein source. Based on Swedish-produced yeast, the project will try to produce proteins with high sensory quality, which means that taste, aroma, and consistency will be appealing to the consumer.

The project is a feasibility study that aims to investigate yeast’s potential as a protein source in food products and will be led by Orkla Food Sweden and in collaboration with RISE.

Supports the UN sustainability goals

2. Zero hunger
3. Good health and well-being
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
12. Responsible consumption and production
13. Climate action
14. Life below water

Green protein is a vital piece of the puzzle in the sustainable food system of the future. Not only can we stop eating meat and fish, but there must be vegetarian products that can replace the nutrients found in animal foods. That is why product development of alternative protein sources is so important.

”RISE can assist the food industry with all steps needed to develop the future plant-based protein products ‒from crop selection to extraction of high-protein flour, extrusion of fibrous, meat-like structures and product development of consumer products. RISE also has all the necessary food-approved infrastructure from lab scale to pilot production,” concludes Mats Stading.

Published: 2021-12-13
Mats Stading

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Mats Stading

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