Palatable Proteins for Complex Palates Toni Tarver | March 2016, Volume 70, No.3

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Because certain legumes can be processed into flours, flakes, starches, pastes, and protein concentrates, they are widely used to enrich the protein content of many food products. The Scoular Co., Omaha, Neb., uses Canadian yellow peas to produce Propulse, a pea protein isolate that can be used in baked goods, beverages, dressings, nutrition bars, pasta, sauces, and snack foods. Scoular has also developed pea crisps, which can be used in energy bars. Canadian yellow peas are also the ingredient in the pea protein product PeasiPro by AIDP, City of Industry, Calif. And Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago, Ill., recently announced its intent to explore the possibility of offering pea protein isolates and concentrates to meet the rising demand for functional protein from alternative sources.

Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean FlourBeanitos bean chipsBob’s Red Mill, Milwaukie, Ore., uses black beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans, and white beans to make various flours. The flours, including Bob’s Red Mill Black Bean Flour and Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour, are marketed as ideal for thickening soups and sauces, augmenting the flavor of dips and taco/burrito fillings, and replacing a portion of the wheat flour in certain baked goods. The company also produces a line of vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free Nutritional Booster Protein Powders that are made with pea protein and contain 20 grams of protein per serving. Explore Asian uses beans to make a variety of pastas, such as its Organic Black Bean Spaghetti and Organic Adzuki Bean Spaghetti. Made from just organic beans and water, Explore Asian’s bean pastas are marketed as high protein, vegan, and gluten-free. And Beanitos Inc., Austin, Texas, offers several snack products made with white beans, black beans, and pinto beans. The snacks include Beanitos Hint of Lime Navy Bean with Sea Salt and Beanitos Better Cheddar Pinto Bean Chips.

Grainy, Seedy Protein
Most legumes and other plant-based protein foods are not complete proteins, which means they are lacking in one or more essential amino acids—essential because, of the 20 amino acids that make up protein, nine of them cannot be produced by the human body. Pairing certain plant-based protein foods with others can provide the amino acid(s) each food is missing; such pairings are called protein complementation. For beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes, nuts are complementary and are common ingredients in many food products offered as sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans. However, tree nuts are one of three food allergens most frequently associated with anaphylaxis (peanuts and shellfish are the other two). For plant eaters with tree-nut and/or peanut allergies, grains and seeds are protein options that are complementary to legumes and vegetable proteins. Among grains, the ones with the highest protein contents are amaranth, wild rice, millet, buckwheat, and quinoa. And among seeds, hemp, pumpkin, flax, and sunflower have the highest levels of protein.

Pacific Foods of Oregon’s hemp milkOne grain-based product that is becoming a popular source of protein for vegans and vegetarians is seitan. A meat substitute made from the gluten of wheat or spelt, seitan can mimic the taste of steak, chicken, pork, or sausage and contains 20 grams of protein per three-ounce portion. Upton’s Naturals, Chicago, Ill., offers several types of seitan, including Chick Seitan and Bacon Seitan, while Sweet Earth Natural Foods offers spicy versions of seitan, including Chipotle Style Seitan and Curry Recipe Seitan. Also rising in popularity among vegans and vegetarians are hemp seeds. Hemp seeds have 10 grams of protein per two-tablespoon serving along with vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. They can be eaten raw, ground into meal and baked into cereals and baked goods or added to shakes and smoothies, or used to make milks and butters. Manna Organics, Lisle, Ill., makes Banana Walnut Hemp Manna Bread, and Pacific Foods of Oregon, Tualatin, Ore., offers hemp milks in different flavors: Hemp Non-Dairy Beverage Original, Hemp Non-Dairy Beverage Chocolate, and Hemp Non-Dairy Beverage Vanilla.

Protein is one of three macronutrients that humans need to survive, but certain proteins cause food allergies, and the production of others (i.e., animal-derived proteins) takes a toll on the environment, depleting land, water, and energy resources. For these reasons, every day more people are motivated to consume less meat and animal products or none at all. As vegan, vegetarian, and other plant-based diets continue to rise in popularity, so do other food preferences and the occurrence of food allergies. For such people, getting enough protein can be a problem. Seaweed, microalgae, duckweed, legumes, whole grains, and seeds may be the solution.

Guilt-Free Animal Protein
Every year many consumers decide to try eating only vegetarian or vegan meals for various reasons. The most common reasons are to manage weight or health issues, to protest the treatment and/or consumption of food animals, or to address concerns about agriculture and environmental resources. However, according to one survey, 84% of vegetarians and vegans eventually revert to eating meat (Humane Research Council 2014). Of those who revert, a sizeable amount feel guilty about it. Here are a few animal-based proteins that former vegetarians and vegans can feel good about eating.

Eggs. Eggs are a compact, highly nutritious form of animal protein that doesn’t involve the butchering of animals and is environmentally friendly. Eggs contain all B vitamins and the full range of amino acids that make up a complete protein; a large egg has seven grams of protein. Moreover, eggs are a good natural source of certain micronutrients that are missing from many foods, such as iodine, choline, and vitamin D. They also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which help prevent macular degeneration. However, despite all the nutrient benefits contained in eggs, they often are criticized by consumers who strongly object to the raising of chickens in cage systems. Former vegetarians and vegans can feel good about the fact that many eggs are now produced in cage-free or free-range environments. In addition, some food manufacturers—Mondelez International, ConAgra Foods, Kellogg Co., General Mills, Nestlé—have committed to using only cage-free eggs in their products within five to 10 years.

Insects. There are more than 1,900 edible insects on Earth, and about two billion people around the world eat them. Insects contain protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals; however, overall nutrient values for edible insects are highly variable because nutrient levels differ between species and within species due to variations in size, habitat, and diet. What is clear is that raising edible insects requires far less land than raising cattle, chickens, and pigs. In addition, they require six times less feed than cattle and two times less feed than pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein, and they produce fewer greenhouse gases. Despite the benefits and advantages of edible insects, most consumers in Westernized countries are resistant to consuming them. However, consumers who plan to reduce their intake of meat are 4.5 times more likely to eat insects (Verbeke 2014). Thus, vegetarians and vegans who are no longer satiated by plant foods alone would be prime candidates for a small but growing market of foods made with bugs: These include dishes at restaurants such as The Black Ant in New York, N.Y., which offers grasshopper-crusted shrimp and entrees sprinkled with black ant salt, and Oyamel in Washington, D.C., which serves sautéed grasshoppers in corn tortillas; insect flours and protein powders by All Things Bugs and Cricket Flours LLC; and bars and baked goods by Exo Inc. and LaViewEye.

Cultured meat. Cultured meat would reduce the amount of land, energy, and water used to produce beef, which would appeal to former vegetarians and vegans who are wary of meat consumption for environmental reasons. Physician Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University who specializes in vascular biology and engineering skeletal muscle tissue, unveiled the first hamburger made with beef grown in vitro in August 2013. He and a team of scientists created the cultured beef by removing stem cells from a living cow’s skeletal muscle tissue and growing the cells into muscle tissue in an artificial environment. More recently, Memphis Meats revealed the first meatball made with lab-grown beef cells and plans to make cultured pork and chicken. The company has no products on the market yet, but with investments from venture capitalists, it projects to have cultured meat products on the market within five years.


Toni Tarver is senior writer/editor of Food Technology magazine (



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