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There are a few things that are generally understood to be #blessed with much protein. Meat, obviously. Soy, chickpeas, and legumes too, though to a lesser extent.
But within the past year or two, companies are suddenly trying to extract protein from every. possible. source.
This discussion came up when I was talking about a Foodnavigator story on Danish scientists who are exploring how to turn grass (yes, grass!) into protein on a Spoon editorial call. “Jeez, is everything just full of protein and we didn’t know it?” asked Head Editor Chris Albrecht.
The short answer is… kind of. Lots of natural resources — grass, cotton seeds, etc. — contain some amount of protein. Many of them just don’t have a lot of it, or aren’t able to be digested by humans.
Enter tech. Scientists are leveraging technology like CRISPR to find ways to extract every last drop of protein from every possible source.
They’re also looking beyond naturally occurring sources of protein and finding ways to grow their own. Perfect Day uses genetically engineered microbes to “grow” milk proteins (and they’ll soon branch into fats). Air Protein, Motif FoodWorks, Solar Foods and Sustainable Bioproducts use similar fermentation techniques to produce protein from, in some cases, thin air.
So protein really is all around us.
The question is, why are we just realizing this now? Likely it’s because we as a population have suddenly become ravenous for protein. At the same time, consumers are increasingly turning flexitarian. To meet their demand for meat (and egg and dairy) alternatives, companies are searching for new protein sources that are plentiful, cheap, and not animal-based. And as tech like CRISPR emerges, and old-school tech like extraction and fermentation become more evolved, scientists are able to get this protein out of, well, almost anything.
Right now the technologies to make protein from grass, air, and more are pretty nascent, so they’re much more costly than straight-up chickpea and soy protein.
But consumer demand for protein isn’t projected to stop its meteoric climb soon. Expect to see new protein sources popping up in more and more unlikely places.
No beans about it
Companies are still developing new ways to tap into existing popular protein sources, though. This week Israeli company ChickP launched to develop a super high protein chickpea protein meant to be used in dairy alternatives.
So will chickpea milk be the new alternative milk du jour? It would first have to usurp crowd favorites almond, soy, and recent plant-based darling oat milk. But if ChickP can deliver on its promises to make a protein that will create dairy alternatives that are flavorless, creamy, and extremely high in protein — admittedly, a high ask — then I think they have a shot.
At least until scientists figure out how to extract exceedingly high protein isolates out of other beans and legumes. (Pinto bean yogurt, anyone?)
All this to say, chickpea milk might be coming to your grocery shelves and baristas, but it’s unclear if it’ll have staying power.
Sounds… kind of extreme. Sure, if you specifically abstain from eating meat products, it’s not fun or appetizing to figure out that your food is contaminated with meat juices. But is it worth getting litigious over?
I think there’s merit to the suit, considering it also touches on issues of transparency around plant-based meat prep in fast food. The lawsuit includes an injunction requiring BK to “plainly disclose” that Impossible patties and meat burgers are cooked on the same grill. Which seems, you know, fair, if they aren’t willing to create a whole separate surface on which to cook the Impossible patties, like White Castle does.
In short, Burger King could have avoided all this headache if they were just a little forthright about how the Impossible burgers are prepared. After all, customers can actually request that their plant-based patty be prepared on a separate surface from the meat. They just have to ask.
Protein ’round the web
- Quaker has discontinued its Oat Beverage product line after less than one year.
- The NC Food Innovation Lab has opened a large R&D facility in North Carolina devoted entirely to plant-based food (h/t Vegnews).
- Greek yogurt king Chobani is making big moves into oats with a new line of drinks and yogurt, according to Fast Company.
Finally, I’ll be out next week for Thanksgiving. Currently debating whether or not to make this White Castle Impossible Slider stuffing.