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22nd October 2019


Plant Protein vs Whey Protein Taste Challenges

Author: Karen Lancashire, Market Insight Executive

In today’s society novel protein sources such as whey and plant based sources (i.e. pea, soy and chickpea) have become a common sight in our supermarkets. There is a myriad of different types of protein based products to choose from. Consumers now have a choice of options and make purchases based on their individual requirements be it diet, social or health reasons. But the debate on which type of protein offers the best benefit based on different needs is still receiving much debate.

wheyAmong individuals who require muscle stimulation whether for increasing mass or improving muscle recovery, whey is still a popular choice. Whey is a high quality protein source containing more branched-chain amino acids than it’s dairy counterpart; casein, and therefore is absorbed much quicker to start repairing and building muscle. However, for hypo-allergenic markets and the eco-conscious consumer, plant proteins has a strong pull. Also being a non-animal source it is a viable protein option for vegetarians and special diet populations.

A trend that is growing in the protein space is the protein fortification of foods due to the perceived health benefits of higher protein consumption. The most popular trend driving the market demand for protein is the increased satiety; feeling of fullness, for weight control. It is clear from these market trends that protein is becoming more than just a “special” dietary component and moving more into the mainstream of food and beverages targeting the general population.

The market for whey protein is no longer solely being driven by sports enthusiasts looking to build and repair muscle. As knowledge of the importance of nutrition and protein has developed, so have the groups of consumers and their needs for protein. Health and wellbeing has become widely recognised among population groups with the concept of personalised nutrition gaining momentum. Personalised nutrition specifies an exact diet based on an individual’s precise needs. Personalised nutrition has led the trend for healthy aging, in which whey protein can be used to potentially benefit people with sarcopenia; the degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass. As protein becomes a part of daily nutrition for much of the population, the taste of protein hydrolysates becomes of greater importance as the hydrolysates are formulated in to meals and snack products.

However not all consumers of whey are affected by the taste of hydrolysates. Due to the superior amino acid profile of whey, it is commonly used as a key protein source for producing infant formulas. It is thought young babies have not fully developed their smell and taste senses and therefore the unpleasant flavours associated with whey protein is not such a concern for these products. Whey protein is hydrolysed for infant formula, as the hydrolysis step breaks down the proteins making it easier for infants to digest and therefore reduces gastrointestinal symptoms. Extensively hydrolysed whey protein can be used for producing hypoallergenic formula, as the protein is broken down into such small parts that the milk protein is not detected by the digestive system therefore almost eliminating an allergic reaction.

Another benefit to food processors is that these protein modifications can be carried out using natural processing aids, such as enzymes, enabling ingredient and product manufacturers to make their food labels clean and meet the market demands of ingredient-conscious consumers. Inherently, the trend for increased protein consumption is driven by health conscious consumers looking to maintain good health through their diet. It is highly likely protein products that are clean label will be more attractive to these consumers as they promote clean eating both in terms of clean ingredients and clean processes for manufacturing food products.

Enzymes are used to hydrolyse the protein with different flavour challenges between both whey and plant protein types. Unhydrolysed whey is harder for the body to digest and the muscles to absorb but also can taste unpleasant. Whey protein processors use protease enzymes to hydrolyse protein into peptides and amino acids producing a hydrolysate. The right enzyme system can help to provide a blander, neutral tasting hydrolysate, which benefits the whey protein manufacturers and consumer product protein manufacturers to provide good tasting products without any bitter taste or unpleasant off-notes. With plant proteins the taste challenge is not just with bitterness but also to eradicate the “vegetal” after taste the right combination of protease enzymes can help with both these issues.

Whey and plant protein sources will be battling it out to capture the market share of the increasing trend and different attitudes to protein and health in various corners of the globe. Whether you are a whey or plant protein processor, enzymes can help overcome product development and quality challenges that many face. As protein becomes more mainstream; taste remains an important factor in consumer product choice.

As companies look to innovate further in the protein space, protein modification is being carried out to not only improve nutritional value but also gain functional benefits such as improving the solubility of protein hydrolysates to be dissolved into protein water products and overcome other product formulation challenges. Read our recent publication on how enzymes can improve plant protein functionality.

With the protein trend showing no sign of slowing down and companies investing heavily in developing the next novel protein fortified product and with flavour being top of the consumer’s hit list for product choice, it is worth consulting with a company such as Biocatalysts who can advise on the most suitable enzyme system to overcome product development challenges and help create the flavour profile processors and more importantly the consumers want.



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