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Unlocking the potential of protein crops

Unlocking the potential of protein crops

The success of the Irish dairy industry is largely due to its ability to take milk and produce a whole host of products that later form the building blocks of other food products, but are there opportunities for the tillage sector to achieve similar results?

As part of the U-Protein project, Teagasc researchers are identifying and refining the key technologies used in the dairy industry, along with developing new practices, to achieve similar results in the plant protein space.

Speaking as part of the recent Teagasc National Tillage Conference, Prof. Mark Fenelon, Head of Food Programme at Teagasc, explored the work ongoing as part of U-Protein (Unlocking Protein Resource Opportunities To Evolve Ireland’s Nutrition) - a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Teagasc, University College Cork, NUI Maynooth, NUI Galway, University of Limerick and Queens University Belfast, as well as food industry partners.

Centring his presentation on the alternative ingredients made from crops – particularly grains and legumes – Mark explained investments have been made in the Teagasc research centres of Ashtown and Moorepark to allow for the separation of protein from crops and the valorisation of the remaining materials to create value-added products for use in the food industry.

As it stands, Irish protein crops are predominately used in the animal feed and specialist fresh/frozen spaces, but there is an opportunity to unlock potential markets through the production of protein flour for use in baked products and protein isolate as an ingredient in many foods.

“We have developed a new process at Moorepark and Ashtown, where we can fractionate different plants. We have looked at optimising this and the effect of the process and the functionality of the ingredients,” Mark said.

Mark Fenelon speaking at the 2024 National Tillage Conference

Prof. Mark Fenelon, Head of Food Programme at Teagasc, detailed the U-Protein project at the Teagasc National Tillage Conference

This process has allowed for the development of a nutritional base that food businesses can rehydrate and later build a product on. Faba beans have already been fractionated to produce a high protein isolate, which can be used in high-end value nutritional products.

“The key is not to disregard the rest of the products,” Mark added, “we can take the protein out be we also need to take the starch and fibre; all have different qualities, but when you put all of them together the business model is much more favourable.”

Additionally, a nutritional beverage has been produced using fava, lupin and pea protein isolate, with functionality testing completed. This work also encompassed the establishment of rapid testing methods for isolate and finished product testing, while a new drying system was tested for drying of plant-based residual biomass after protein extraction.

For more on Mark’s presentation at the Teagasc National Tillage Conference, click here.

World Pulses Day

Today, February 10th, marks World Pulses Day. For more information on the U-Protein project, click here. Teagasc also co-ordinates VALPRO Path, a project to create and demonstrate improved supply chain opportunities for the European plant protein industry. Learn more on VALPRO Path here.

Also read: Teagasc’s ‘Plant-Based Protein: Yes, You Can!’ video series

Also read: The power of plant protein

Also read: New kids on the block – exploring the role of lentils and lupins

Also read: A solution to the pea crop’s Achilles’ heel?