Q&A: Formulating with Plant-Based Protein

April 23rd, 2021

Protein Series

Blue Diamond R&D Director Kurt Waananen explains:

  • Emerging protein innovation trends
  • Overcoming plant-based formulation challenges
  • Opportunities for innovation with almonds

Innovation with plant-based protein shows no signs of slowing down, as consumers continue to search for natural sources of energy to support their active lifestyles and personal health goals

IRI data shows that new grocery products making protein claims are growing at 9% each year, with several categories seeing double-digit sales growth, including snacks at 11%.1"

We talked with Blue Diamond R&D Director Kurt Waananen about the latest protein trends and opportunities for innovation with almonds.

1. Where do you see protein innovation taking place? What is driving consumer interest in plant-based protein?

Today, most consumers associate protein with a healthy, balanced diet, and it’s playing a bigger role in their food and beverage purchase decisions. As a result, protein claims have been expanding beyond the functional food category and into snacks, bakery products, and even more indulgent offerings, like cookies and chocolate. R&D teams are focused on bringing added protein to a wide variety of applications, as consumers look for more robust snack and meal replacement options.

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Consumers’ desire for more natural and recognizable ingredients is driving the rapid pace of innovation in plant-based protein. According to a survey by the International Food Information Council, 65% of consumers have tried a new plant-based protein over the last 12 months and show a preference for products that feature “natural” claims.2

2. What should formulators consider when choosing a protein source?

Taste is one of the top differentiators for plant-based protein powders. Many plant-based proteins have an unappealing or “earthy” aftertaste. Though R&D professionals can use masking agents to improve flavor, these often detract from a clean label, something that is highly valued by consumers. Product developers should look for protein sources with a neutral flavor profile, which will help them create better-tasting products with a simpler label.

3. What are some common challenges that arise when working with plant-based proteins, and what can R&D teams do to overcome them?

One of the most common challenges is achieving the right texture while also meeting protein targets. The addition of plant-based protein can lead to a gritty or chalky texture in beverages, and a dry texture in baked goods and snacks. This is because many plant-based proteins are highly water and oil absorbent, and they tend to compete for available water in the formulation. Reducing other high water absorbing ingredients will allow for higher protein ingredient levels to be achieved in many plant-based applications. In protein and nutrition bars, for example, replacing granulated sugar with liquid sweeteners and adjusting functional water-binding starches or hydrocolloids can allow for higher protein levels that deliver a desirable chewy texture.

4. What sets Almond Protein Powder apart from other forms of plant protein?

Almond Protein Powder offers formulators a clean-label, clean-tasting protein solution. Its nutritional benefits, including high fiber and low fat content, help create a mild and balanced flavor profile that complements virtually any application. Additionally, Almond Protein Powder is milled to an ultra-fine granulation, allowing for a smooth mouthfeel.

When used within a protein blend, Almond Protein Powder provides flavor masking benefits, helping to dilute the earthy notes and textures contributed by other protein sources to deliver optimal taste and texture in the finished product. The combination of these attributes make it possible for formulators to use Almond Protein Powder as a base for new, protein-enriched products with great taste, texture and a simpler label.

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5. What else do almonds bring to plant-based protein products?

Almonds have a reputation as a natural superfood and are seen as a healthy, “value add” ingredient in a variety of nutritionally-focused products. Ounce-for-ounce, almonds are the tree nut highest in protein and five other essential nutrients – fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin. Almonds also boast a heart-healthy fat profile, with 13 grams of “good” unsaturated fat and only 1 gram of saturated fat in every ounce.

With Almond Protein Powder, R&D teams can capitalize on consumers’ well-established trust in the health and taste of almonds, as well as the shift towards high protein and plant-based diets.

1. “Protein remains a powerful force in food and beverage innovation,” Food Business News. June, 2019.
2. “Consumer Viewpoints and Purchasing Behaviors Regarding Plant and Animal Protein,” International Food Information Council. Jan. 2021

Article originally published May 10.

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