A growing world population, climate change, environmental degradation, and increased appetite for meat-based proteins – these are mutually exclusive trends. The EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme is funding the international research consortium ‘PROTEIN2FOOD’ that develops innovative, resource-efficient and nutritious food based on ‘new’ protein crops.
Meat production consumes a huge amount of energy and accounts for almost 15% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. And as the world’s 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 developing new products from high-quality, protein-rich crops that are nutritious and have a relatively low carbon footprint.
Unique about this international collaboration is that it addresses the entire food value chain –from optimising protein crops, to developing new protein ingredients and food prototypes, to conducting consumer acceptance studies. The project also assesses whether the new products it develops are really more sustainable than their conventional alternatives. Further, it explores effective policy interventions, and creates social innovation by bringing together all stakeholders in the food value chain (breeders, processors, manufacturers, retailers), training them, and future-proofing the food supply chain. According to project coordinator Sven-Erik Jacobsen of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, the ultimate goal of the project is to:
‘…produce plant-based protein food which is sustainable and so attractive that the consumers will prefer those to animal-based alternatives.’
Versatile Crops & Forgotten Treasures
The PROTEIN2FOOD project works with a number of plants high in protein quantity or quality. Some of the protein crops investigated, such as quinoa and amaranth, originate in the Andean region of South America. For example, local PROTEIN2FOOD-partner National Agrarian University La Molina (UNALM) of Peru has collaborated with top Peruvian chef Flavio Solórzano to develop novel and unexpected food products with these Andean grains. Together, they used quinoa to create 55 innovative dishes, ranging from dairy substitutes, cold drinks, appetizers, salads, main dishes, breads, and pastries. The wide range of dishes could be developed because different varieties of quinoa vary in their chemical composition, making each suitable for a particular type of dish.
The PROTEIN2FOOD project researchers are also working to fully adapt these Andean plants to European climates and increase the amount and quality of protein found within them. This can help in climate change adaptation scenarios and extreme weather conditions worldwide. Furthermore, improved methods to extract the protein from these crops are being investigated, creating novel, protein-rich ingredients for food processing. For example, PROTEIN2FOOD partner Prolupin, a German company, transforms lupins, a traditional legume crop, into high-protein compounds that can be used in mayonnaise, as a topping, or for producing vegetable ice cream.
Moreover, ancient European crops are also under investigation in the project. Buckwheat, lentil, faba beans and chickpeas are being grown, processed and tested for their functionality as food ingredients. From these plant-protein sources, PROTEIN2FOOD researchers have created meat-replacers such as burgers, a plant-based ‘chicken-breast’ as well as spreads. Further creations by the researchers, using their new protein-rich ingredients, include foods like pasta, vegetable beverages, protein bars, healthy breakfast cereals and infant food.
Supporting a Sustainable World
According to the researchers, the project is not about convincing people to become vegetarians, but rather about increasing awareness and providing the consumer with more options that require less resources and thereby reduce the amount of meat consumed in general. The project coordinator, Sven-Erik Jacobsen, adds:
‘If we can make society a little bit more vegetarian, or flexitarian [adhering to a generally meatless diet which occasionally includes meat or fish], we have made a great impact.’
A Promising Future
Entering into its fifth and final year, PROTEIN2FOOD is now in the process of harvesting the last crops, analysing and processing the ingredients, and finetuning the food prototypes for consumer testing and sustainability analysis. The main project findings will be shared with the world throughout the year, but a closing event for all interested stakeholders is foreseen for late January 2020 in Brussels. The final date will be announced on the project website soon.
Horizon 2020: Open to the World
Horizon 2020 is the largest multinational programme dedicated to research & innovation and it is ‘Open to the World’. This means that researchers, universities, research organisations or companies from across the globe can apply to participate in the activities of the Work Programme carried out mainly through calls for proposals. The Work Programme for 2018-2020 represents a major investment of €30 billion, with more than 600 calls for proposals, including a list of 30 international flagship initiatives in areas of mutual benefit.
More information about the PROTEIN2FOOD project: www.protein2food.eu
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