Nutrition Meets Food Science

The Alternate Protein Industry – The Need of The Hour

The global pandemic brought with itself an awareness of the poor nutrition and vulnerability of the population to diseases and illnesses. According to the United Nations, the pandemic has reported 4 million deaths and 255 million losses of jobs. The population is reflecting on their overall health and making conscious choices on how they treat their body to combat these diseased conditions. The loss of jobs have seen immense strain on the economy which has also emulated upon the climate crisis and remains unabated. The health and climate change issues have brought new light to careful selection of commodities that are well-being and sustainable.

Food makes a major part of our daily life; it contributes to our overall health and well-being. According to the “what India eats” report conducted by ICMR-NIN, the protein intake in India lies between 40-48g predominantly obtained from cereal products. Being a vegetarian and carbohydrate consuming country there is a gap between the quality and quantity of the protein we consume. This gap has given rise to innovative techniques to combat this deficiency condition. According to the Food Marketing Technology, 2022, the alternative protein industry has been booming with a worldwide alternative protein marketplace of  $ 2.2 billion. Additionally, the Food Safety Standard Authority of India has observed this trend and published a draft for regulations for Vegan foods in 2021.

Understanding the alternative protein industry:

Alternative protein includes foods from plant-based sources that are a substitute to animal proteins being an endeavour for human and planetary health. These products include wholegrains, legumes, nuts, fungus, or lab grown meat. Various industries are diving into this opportunity with personal care, food and beverages and the supplement industry being part of the game. However, the food and beverage industry holds 64% volume of this segment. This can be attributed to health, sustainability and feeding the growing population.


A view at the ingredients used:

Wholegrains: Ingredients like wheat flour, quinoa flour, oat flour and gluten are most commonly used by the food and beverage industry. Wheat flour is a great source of the protein gluten which has viscoelastic properties that enhance stretchability and chewiness of the product. Some examples of commercial food products that use gluten include soya chaap, meatless burger patties, nuggets and noodles. Similarly, oat flour is functionally soluble in water and has become a frequently used ingredient by the plant based dairy alternative players. Quinoa is a rich source of protein and is functionally able to form gels and showcases thermal properties. Quinoa has been used to make noodles, meatless kheema for humans and tofu for animal feeds.

A recent report by FSSAI, 2020 on Millets, highlighted the benefits of millets such as jowar, bajra, ragi, buckwheat, amaranth and these have shown potential to be utilize across the protein portfolio.

Legumes: Legumes are a great vegetarian source of protein. It is the food group that is most widely used by this sector.

Soy is the topmost component used for its various beneficial properties. Soy has the protein globulin which helps achieve a fibrous texture being like meat products. It is easily available and affordable. Moreover, it is one of the richest vegetarian sources of protein, is a complete protein and has a biological value of 96 similar to animal-based milk. It hence makes complete sense that soy has been the chosen ingredient for its quantity and quality of protein. Various products are commercially available that look to soy to achieve versatility among their plant protein portfolios. Diverse products like soya chunks, extruded snacks, burger patties, fermented products, soy milk, ice creams, meal replacer shakes, protein bars, etc.

Moong bean is another widely used legume by the industry. Moong differs from soy in providing softer texture attributed to its gelling property. It was first used to make a plant protein egg, however, has been flourishing in other categories like moong noodles, moong wadis, protein powders. Another novel ingredient is the chickpea. Traditionally, the Middle Eastern culture utilizes chickpeas for hummus, falafels, although today chickpeas have entered the plant protein market with products like ice cream.

Nuts: Nuts mostly contribute to the plant based dairy alternatives. Almonds, coconut are used because of their creamy texture. Nuts are unexplored in other product categories and can be looked at in the future.

Fungus: With the growing market for protein alternatives, along with nuggets, burgers, sausages made from soy, pea, and others, innovation is also exploring fungi. The root like spores of mushrooms when fermented, produce the protein rich mycoprotein. Additionally, it has a natural meat like texture and is now being used by varied companies.

An entrepreneur has gone beyond its role in meat substitutes and developed a product where fungi acts as a flavour enhancer and blocks bitter afternotes usually perceived in plant-based meat products.

Lab-grown Meat: Owing to the future of food, cultured meat is now being worked upon by scientists. It is an in-vitro method using cell cultures also called as cell agriculture. Cultured meat is being developed to combat global issues like environment change, growing population, food security, and human health. It also helps in delivering quantity and quality of nutrients with the desired texture.

The future is bright with the target group widening. The industry can explore kid friendly formats, regional formats, cost effective solutions, on-the-go protein formulations, fermented products, cell-based sources and thereby deliver tasty, healthy and environmentally friendly options to consumers.f

Pratipanna Dash

Product Development Manager, Marico

Fatema Noorani

Nutrition Officer- R&D, Marico

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