One of the objectives of PROTEIN2FOOD is to develop nutritious and tasty plant-based protein-rich products to encourage European consumers to go for more plant-based alternatives, while also stirring away from soy-based products. Examples are substitutes for dairy products, using high protein ingredients developed during the PROTEIN2FOOD project. Cow’s milk and soy-based beverages are good sources of protein; however, they are associated with environmental, ethical and allergy-related issues. On the other hand, some plant-based milk alternatives, like almond or rice contain very little protein. Ingredients developed in PROTEIN2FOOD can provide a solution to these problems and deliver products that are nutritionally similar to cow’s milk and more environmentally friendly.

Project partners from University College Cork (UCC) have developed a plant-based milk substitute using lentil protein isolate. Using high-shear mixers and high-pressure homogenisation technology, the researchers have been able to create a stable emulsion, a mixture of two normally non-soluble liquids, where tiny particles of one liquid is suspended in the other. This emulsion has a protein and fat content similar to cow’s milk. The product is then heat-treated to prevent microbial spoilage and extend shelf life. Using sensory testing, the lentil-based milk alternative was also found to have a pleasant, yet mild taste and aroma. 

It is important that these new products have good functional properties (e.g. that the emulsion does not separate over time), nutritional properties (e.g. high protein) and especially sensory properties (smell, taste, appearance etc.). This is because research suggests that key barriers to increasing the consumption of plant-based animal substitutes are unfamiliarity and the lower sensory attractiveness of animal substitutes[1]. PROTEIN2FOOD research from the project also suggests that “meat reducers”, also known as flexitarians or part-time vegetarians represent the biggest growth potential for plant-based protein products, and therefore it is important that these dairy alternatives are attractive for this consumer group.

This research suggests that lentil protein may be suitable for many beverage applications as it has good solubility, emulsifying, and sensory properties. Currently, UCC researchers are  exploring the suitability of other PROTEIN2FOOD ingredients, such as faba bean and lupin protein, for the production of milk substitutes and other plant-based products.

Loco for lentils? Want to know how far from commercialisation this plant-based milk substitute is? Head over to the Temperature Check on PROTEIN2FOOD Prototypes to read more.

Researchers from UCC; Dave Waldron (left), Martin Vogelsang O’Dwyer (middle), Andrea Hoehnel (right) have worked on the Lentil-based Milk .

[1] Hoek, A.C., Luning, P.A., Weijzen, P., Engels, W., Kok, F.J., de Graff, C. (2011). Replacement of meat by meat substitutes. A survey on person- and product-related factors in consumer acceptance. Appetite, 56: 662-673.