Processing protein powders with the vacuum expansion method

Dr Ing Hans-Joachim Jacob, senior expert process and applications at ystral gmbh maschinenbau + processtechnik, discusses the relevance of vacuum expansion on the alternative protein processing line

Whether it is a plant-based lactose-free alternative to milk, vegan ice cream or a meatless steak, the offer of non-animal food is continuously growing. The most important ingredients of these products are usually plant-based proteins. However, processing of these protein powders poses a challenge: In order to ensure optimum product quality, the proteins must be fully unlocked, starches must be degraded to the required degree, and agglomerates and foam must be avoided during production. All of this is achieved when processing protein powders in the vacuum expansion process.

A glance onto the shelves of an ordinary supermarket or discounter shows that vegan food has increasingly taken up space here next to animal-based products such as meat or sausage or milk products. For example, as an alternative to animal milk, and in addition to oat, soy, rice, coconut or almond drinks, the range offered by food retailers also includes products based on plants, such as peas, lentils, cashews or peanuts. Adding to this is a large number of further vegan products, from whipping cream and yoghurt to spreads.

While so far vegetable proteins have been the most important ingredients of these on-trend products, additional protein types are expected to gain prominence. This applies in particular to fermented proteins from bacteria or yeasts; these proteins have a neutral taste, are inexpensive and resource-saving in their production, easily digestible, and contain all essential amino acids as well as vitamin B12, giving it an advantage compared to plant-based proteins.

Novel foods require new technologies

Alternative proteins difficult to process, and they also have very different characteristics. Wheat protein, for example, is extremely cohesive, while soy protein is extremely adhesive. If protein powders of seeds, grains, nuts and pulses are mixed into water, they are prone to clogging, agglutinating and foaming. The proteins are shear-sensitive, but at the same time, they require high shearing while being dispersed into the liquid. Therefore, shearing under controlled conditions is required in a very short period of time.

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