New milk and plant-based protein innovation developed in research

December 28, 2021
New milk and plant-based protein innovation developed in research

Scientists have enriched the nutritional content of cow’s milk this time by adding low-soluble pea protein – a nonallergenic, gluten-free, and cost-effective plant protein that assists in muscle development. The team from the Department of Food Science and Technology at The Ohio State University (OSU) hopes their innovation will help bolster declining fluid milk sales in the US as well as guide the development of highly nutritious new products.

Most of the protein (80%) in cow’s milk takes the form of casein, which naturally binds together to form large spherical molecules suspended in the water component of milk. The suspended casein micelle (molecule) is made up of the water-attracted end of the protein, while the core of the casein micelle is the water-repellant side. This structure enables casein micelles to carry vitamins and minerals that do not dissolve easily in water, such as calcium.

To turn casein micelles into transporters of extra nutrients, the micelle must be broken open, the nutrients added, and the micelle structure reassembled. Past research has accomplished this using ultra-high pressure and other specialised techniques, but the OSU scientists achieved similar results using readily available dairy processing equipment that could be easily reproduced in any dairy facility

Rafael Jiménez-Flores, PhD, OSU, said that plant-based proteins can be difficult to incorporate into foods because of their low solubility and undesirable off-flavours. “Pea protein, in particular, can be a challenge to use in food systems because of its low solubility and undesirable bitterness.”

Besides its balanced amino acid composition, pea protein also has a high percentage of hydrophobic proteins (65% to 80%), which was determined to be a good model to represent plant-based proteins.

In addition, the findings offer potential for innovations with other plant-based proteins or nutraceuticals with low solubility to cater to consumers’ desires for healthy high-protein products that are also environmentally conscious.

Read: Low-fat milk could help with slower aging, seen by telomere length

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