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Innovative and Sustainable Exploitation of Plant Proteins in Future Foods

Alternative title: Innovativ og bærekraftig utnyttelse av planteprotein i fremtidens matprodukter

Awarded: NOK 39.2 mill.

The FoodProFuture project was designed to create knowledge for optimal production and utilization of plant raw materials into tasty, healthy and attractive plant-based food products with high protein content and by this enable the Norwegian agriculture and food industry to exploit an ascending market and accelerating the adaption and value creation from future food products with lower environmental impacts. A multidisciplinary research approach was chosen, including research activities that can be summarized into crop science, food science,sensory evaluations, food processing technology, food chemistry, consumer science and analyses of markets, and in life cycle and environmental impact analyses. The potential to increase the agricultural areas producing peas, faba bean (FB) and oilseed from the current 2 to 19 % of the total cereal production area has been documented. This will optimize crop rotations and thereby increase also cereal yields and quality. Series of field trials and a climate chamber experiment were conducted with peas and FB, vegetable soybean cultivars for edamame, and high-protein oats. Increased knowledge has been obtained in peas and FB on plant development, root nodulation with Rhizobium, strategies to reduce lodging, yield formation and the accumulation of chemical constituents as starch, proteins and selected anti-nutrients in the seeds. This is agronomic knowledge important for farmers for future choice of appropriate agronomic strategies. Dry fractionation technology was established and explored to produce pea, FB and barley protein concentrates. Concentrates from peas and FB were further used in the development of texturized protein ingredients or meat alternatives using extrusion technology. Protein concentrates were obtained with protein contents of about 45% in peas, 60% in FB and 30% in barley. Effects of dehulling before fractionation was investigated, and upscaling to commercial scale was tested. Model foods as "Healthy snacks" and meat analogues were successfully produced, by dry- and wet extrusion, respectively. During this, process parameters were investigated and optimized regarding sensory and textural properties. The work included chemical analysis and aspects of sensory, physical and functional analyzes of protein fractions prior to and after processing to model foods. Several protein preparations from peas and FB had gel properties that exceeded those of a standard soy protein. Their functional behavior when exposed to differences in pH and salt concentrations, relevant for food processing, was documented. Anti-nutrients such as raffinose family oligosaccharides (part of FODMAPs) and phytic acid tended to be co-fractionated with protein in the dry-fractionation process. Cell models and intervention studies in mice indicated no negative nor positive clinical effects by any of the FB fractions, or parameters associated with inflammation. Market analysis of European lead markets with high plant-based food consumption was studied and identified four future scenarios for Norway which can be used to develop plant-based innovations. Interviews, focus groups and consumer survey were used to understand consumers, industry, retailers, and food service providers attitudes, barriers and needs related to plant-based food. Design-thinking based collaboration and co-creative innovation techniques were developed. Personas as representatives of Norwegian consumer segments were described to target product innovation and to calculate yearly environmental impact from the diets and the potential for reductions. The environmental impact of peas, FB, rapeseeds and other major protein sources in the Norwegian diet, as well as the average protein consumed, was calculated using Life Cycle Assessment. Low environmental impacts were found for peas and FB, both for climate impact and other impact categories. Calculations on the national level of the effect of utilizing the potential increase in domestic production of FB, peas and oilseeds and using this in food displacing red meat showed large reductions in environmental impacts while at the same time liberating agricultural land areas and improving national self-sufficiency. The results have highlighted the potential to increase the Norwegian production of grain legumes to levels that could supply a large proportion of the national demand for food uses. High competence is built in dry fractionation and extrusion technologies important to facilitate the food industry in their commercialization. Increased understanding has been obtained in functional and chemical properties of raw materials, fractions and model food. Large steps have been taken in consumer knowledge related to plant-based food, and market possibilities. An increase in production and consumption of plant proteins in Norway would give a significant reduction in environmental impacts, and also contribute to such a development in other countries.

The FoodProFuture project has brought the participating R&D groups a large step forward in competence, specified in the result report. The FoodProFuture projects will lead to four doctoral degrees and have offered temporary postdoc/research positions involving four excellent candidates. Eleven master thesis candidates are finalized within the project disciplines. New research networks are built, both nationally research networks and with links to international research groups, industrial companies and other stakeholders. The project has contributed to extensive dissemination to users and the general public. We anticipate that the outcomes will be an important stepping stone for further developments of plant-based foods in Norway. This is indicated also by several new R&D projects that are funded, including Partnerskap for matkorn og proteinvekster, to continue the work on plant-based foods, that will rely on outputs from this project.

FoodProFuture aims to develop the necessary knowledge platform for the optimal production and utilization of Norwegian plant resources into tasty, healthy and attractive plant-based food products with high protein content. Knowledge from this platform will enable the Norwegian food system to produce high quality and more sustainable plant-based alternatives to animal products and propose a path forward for accelerating the adaption and value creation from plant based protein-rich resources to future food products. The project aims to produce a range of model products facilitated by combining new knowledge of protein-rich crop production adapted to the Norwegian climate, and new, innovative technologies based on dry fractionation combined with other processing technologies to produce protein-enriched fractions from actual raw materials and side streams. Key bio-resources will be grain legumes, potato and oats, as well as side streams from cereal and rapeseed processing. The project will provide in-depth knowledge of health and safety aspects of plant-based products through model product characterisation for both beneficial and anti-nutritional compounds, and by investigating nutrient bioavailability and possible negative immune responses. Furthermore, functional properties will be characterized to select optimal processing technology as well as sensory quality attributes of the model products. The environmental impact of the entire food system from primary production to consumer will be assessed using LCA and social analyses. Finally, the project aims to improve the understanding of the Norwegian consumers and industrys perception, barriers, and needs towards increased utilization of high protein plant based food in order to succeed in a future shift in diet towards more plant-based food and more sustainable food production. The project shall uncover the current barriers in the food system (agricultural, consumer, industry) and develop feasible solutions.

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