Developing a taste for high-protein plants
An EU-funded project is investigating protein-rich crops in Europe as attractive alternatives to meat - a means to reduce the environmental impact of livestock on the planet and provide farmers with a new source of income.
© 5ph - fotolia.com
Meat production consumes a huge amount of energy and accounts for almost 15 % of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, as the worlds population continues to grow, experts say our present appetite for meat is not sustainable.
Meat is an excellent source of protein, but it is not the only one. To give European consumers more options, the EU-funded PROTEIN2FOOD project is currently developing new products from high-quality protein-rich crops.
If we can curb an increase in meat consumption through this project, by having more people eating plant-based protein, it would be good both for the health of people and that of the environment, says the project spokesperson Raymond Gemen of the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), in Belgium.
Project coordinator Sven-Erik Jacobsen of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark adds: We should produce plant based protein food which is so attractive that the consumers will prefer those to animal based alternatives.
Adapting plants to Europes climate
Some of the protein crops investigated in PROTEIN2FOOD, such as quinoa and amaranth, originate from the Andean region of South America. Researchers are working to fully adapt these plants to European climates and increase the amount and quality of protein found within them.
The project is also researching improved methods to extract the protein, creating novel protein-rich ingredients for food processing. The PROTEIN2FOOD partner, Prolupin, a German SME, transforms lupins, a traditional legume crop, into high-protein compounds for industrial use. A lupin whip that can be used in mayonnaise, as topping, or for producing vegetable ice cream has been developed.
PROTEIN2FOOD is also involved in processing these high-protein ingredients and is creating protein-rich food like pasta, vegetable beverages, protein bars, healthy breakfast cereals and infant food.
Examples of some of the foods already developed include pasta enriched with peas and a quinoa beverage. The project is also conducting a market analysis looking at trends from 1961 to today to determine opportunities and barriers to the economic success of these products.
Supporting a sustainable world
According to the researchers, this is not about convincing people to become vegetarians, but more about reducing the amount of meat we eat in general, and getting our protein from alternative sources at least a few days each week.
If we eat less meat overall, thats the way to go: make the population a little more vegetarian rather than trying to radically convert people, says Gemen.
Since crops like quinoa and amaranth are not traditionally grown in Europe, the project is providing intensive training courses for farmers to educate them on best agricultural practices.
Research on these crops has been ongoing for decades, although commercial production in Europe only started recently. The interest in protein crops is rising fast. Over the last year the area of quinoa produced in Denmark increased by 150 % and as of 2017 quinoa is being produced in 15 EU Member States.
Following on from that, the focus is on connecting the quinoa-producing farmers with food-processing SMEs, enabling the establishment of an innovative market-chain to ensure that more high-protein, plant-based foods reach the consumers. University students are also benefiting from the initiative by carrying out extensive studies relating to the project for their bachelor and masters degrees.