Revolutionising Nutrition: The Rise of Alternative Proteins

The food industry is experiencing a significant shift as alternative proteins rise in popularity. These non-animal-based foods, ingredients, and beverages, including plant-based, cell culture-based, and fermentation-based proteins, offer a new frontier in nutrition and sustainability. Designed to mimic the taste, texture, and nutritional profiles of traditional animal proteins, alternative proteins have come a long way from the mock meats of the past. The market for these products is booming, projected to surpass $290 billion by 2030, driven by their nutritional benefits, environmental sustainability, and potential to enhance food security.

Today, the industry for alternative proteins has technology on their side and are continuously turning to data and analysis to find solutions that will make these increasingly popular food items more appealing to a wider consumer base. And while meat or burgers grown in a lab does grab headlines, it’s a far cry from the products found in grocery stores that are more practical and cost-effective. Making better alternative protein products isn’t as easy as throwing lentils into the mix and scientific methods are helping to expand the alternative protein offerings in the mainstream market.

 

Passing taste tests with lab innovation

As the market for alternative proteins expands, rigorous testing becomes crucial. Ensuring the safety, composition, health benefits, and sustainability of these products is essential for maintaining consumer trust and industry growth. For many consumers, concerns about contaminants like veterinary drugs and hormones in meat products make alternative proteins a preferred choice, perceived as a healthier option. However, with rising demand and sometimes limited supply, food fraud becomes a significant challenge. Fraudsters may substitute expensive plant-based proteins with allergens like wheat or soya, or engage in other deceptive practices such as mislabelling and counterfeiting.

To address these challenges and meet consumer expectations in terms of the sensory experience, food developers are turning to advanced analytical tools. These tools are essential for overcoming the biggest hurdles to mainstream acceptance of alternative proteins: taste and texture.

By using sensitive instruments to analyse and optimise the flavour, aroma, and nutritional profiles of these products, food scientists can ensure they meet the high standards expected by consumers.

The process begins with sample preparation to remove unwanted interferences such as fats, chlorophyll, and pigments, allowing researchers to accurately compare the alternative proteins to their animal-based counterparts. Tools like liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry systems are then used to analyse food on a molecular level. Liquid chromatography provides detailed characterisation of stable components such as amino acids, vitamins, and lipids, while gas chromatography examines volatile compounds to engineer desired smells and tastes.

In addition to instrumental analysis, human taste testers play a crucial role in evaluating the palatability of food. Advanced instrumentation can complement this by objectively identifying the five basic tastes – sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami – in alternative proteins. This combined approach ensures a comprehensive assessment of flavour and texture, critical for consumer acceptance.

Ensuring a quality composition of alternative proteins

Agilent’s workflow solutions exemplify the robust testing needed in the alternative protein industry. These solutions validate the authenticity, nutritional information, and safety of alternative protein products. For instance, Agilent’s LC-Q-TOF-MS/MS technology has been used to investigate non-meat proteins and peptide markers in ready-to-cook beef burgers, while GC/MS-based metabolomics approaches differentiate the chemical profiles of plant-based meat alternatives from grass-fed ground beef.

Watch our webinar on Metabolomics Profiling of Meat and Plant-based Meats >

 

Agilent 5977 GC/MSD

 

Elemental analysis is another critical aspect of ensuring the quality of alternative proteins. During the production process, there is potential for elemental metals to contaminate the final products. Agilent’s atomic spectroscopy instruments, such as the 7850 inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), enable the identification and quantification of these metal elements, ensuring product safety.

Agilent 7850 ICP-MS

 

The future of food relies heavily on advancing research into alternative proteins. Technologies such as ICP-MS, triple quadrupole (QQQ) liquid or gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC/GC/MS), and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) are recommended for robust testing purposes. These tools not only support the development of safer, healthier, and more sustainable food options but also influence the global food supply chain.

 

Chemetrix has the expert knowledge and innovative solutions required by the food industry to advance the safety and innovative product development of alternative proteins. As the food and agriculture industry faces ever-increasing demands for more sensitive, productive analytical solutions, Chemetrix leads the industry with products and services to help you deliver what your customers demand. Our instruments, systems, and supplies are used throughout the food production chain, including incoming inspection, new product development, quality control and assurance, and packaging. Contact us to find out how our team can assist you.