Nutriati’s artesa chickpea protein - debuting at the IFT show next week - is white, odorless, and neutral-tasting with a smooth mouthfeel (no ‘beany’ or ‘earthy’ taste or grittiness), which makes it very attractive for manufacturers of products such as plant-based milks, said Nutriati co-founder Michael Spinelli, a food R&D veteran who rose up the ranks at Ben & Jerry’s and chickpea-fueled brand Sabra, and teamed up with Altria exec Richard Kelly to form Nutriati in 2013.
Thanks to a patent-pending proprietary production process, the protein has a small, uniform particle size that delivers a superior taste, aroma, mouthfeel, and appearance, and helps it beat plant-based rivals in the functionality stakes, delivering superior water and oil binding qualities, freeze/thaw stability, solubility/dissolution and suspendability, allowing for higher inclusion levels and shorter, cleaner labels, Spinelli told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The fine, consistent, particle size is unique for plant proteins. If you drop it into filtered water and look at taste, texture, aroma and acceptability, it eclipses all of the other plant-based proteins, and lines up very nicely against whey protein. It has a very clean flavor profile that you don't get with yellow pea, hemp or rice or soy. It's as close to dairy as any plant protein we've tested.
“It also works better than other plant-based proteins in low moisture bars, cookies and dry blended powders and nutrition supplements. Plant proteins can be very challenging to work with due to the variable particle sizes, whereas we’re offering consistency and predictability.”
We make things possible that cannot be made adequately with other plant proteins
Artesa protein could also function as a drop-in replacement for dairy proteins in multiple applications, and is attracting interest from formulators in every application area from plant-based milks, cheese, yogurts, mayo and meat alternatives to nutritional supplements, extruded snacks, crisps, cereals, bars, baked goods, pastas, noodles and sports beverages, he added.
“A lot of proteins started life in nutrition supplements, whereas we came from the starting point of creating a food ingredient that has the sensory and functional qualities food formulators are looking for. We make things possible that cannot be made adequately with other plant proteins.”
When it comes to acidic (low pH) beverages, plant-based proteins such as pea can precipitate out of solution, or are not able to solubilize, he said. However, artesa protein’s fine particle size helps it remain suspended.
“Any protein will crash out below a certain isoelectric point, but if you get some sedimentation after a month on shelf, you can gently shake the bottle and all of the artesa re-suspends in the solution. With pea protein, which has large, inconsistent particle sizes, you could literally turn the bottle upside down and shake it and that sediment would stay where it is.”
Protein concentration... how much is enough?
Asked about protein concentration - and whether buyers are looking for higher concentration levels (eg. 70%+), Spinelli explained that "a lower concentration protein (eg. artesa chickpea protein c.62%) imbued with the right set of functional qualities could achieve a higher in-product formulation load of protein versus a higher concentration product" because it tastes better and has superior functional capabilities.
He added: "There are taste, processing, and in-product quality issues associated with higher concentration products such as yellow pea protein rendering the final product unacceptable to the general consumer. To make an acceptable product, formulators typically either need to pull back on the gross amount of the high concentration protein, or they are obliged to add a challenging matrix of masking agents, sweeteners, conditioners and other excipients – rendering a clean label plan obsolete."
As to how concentrated protein has to be to be considered a 'concentrate,' he said: "There is no regulatory basis for the 70% number as defining a concentrate. The insistence on a certain concentration of protein is a legacy viewpoint that remains from the early days of plant protein (soy) marketing. It’s also an attitude that you see coming from the supplement and sports nutrition segment.
"In both cases, consumers were willing to sacrifice on organoleptics, clean label, and product experience to get their protein in a specific way. These people tend to gravitate toward isolates and hydrolysates in point of fact. At the same time, product developers commonly have a range of difficulties in processing with these plant proteins - not the least of which is adding the aforementioned masking agents and other additives."
We had to invent a new process
While a growing number of brands from The Good Bean and Biena Foods to Hippeas, Banza and neat are built around chickpeas, chickpea protein is not produced on a commercial scale by any of the major players in plant proteins, despite the fact that chickpeas are very widely grown and relatively cheap compared to some other potential new sources of plant-based protein, he explained.
“We had to invent a new process and we’ve filed patents around the process and the composition of the resulting product as a function of that process, so we couldn’t just sign up any contract manufacturer to produce this for us. We needed to build, design, and invent this ourselves, and we have partner manufacturers that have agreed to allow us to design and invest in the equipment and build facilities in conjunction with their facilities. It’s definitely an atypical relationship.”
He added: “A lot of proteins require heavy energy use and water consumption, acid based chemistry, enzymatic reactions to separate starches and cleave peptides and then intense centrifugal energy to separate, followed by heat steps. We realized that wasn’t a recipe for creating highly functional and taste oriented proteins, so we took a very different approach that’s the antithesis of what’s typically done.”
It’s slightly more expensive than standard pea protein
Devin Stagg, chief operating officer at PLT Health Solutions, an early investor in Nutriati, and its exclusive sales and marketing partner, added: “Companies we’ve been talking to are often trying to get to a certain inclusion level – x grams of protein per serving – but have been running into taste, functionality or process limiting steps when they use other plant-based proteins, but by incorporating artesa they have been able to meet those targets.
“It’s slightly more expensive than standard pea protein but it’s unique taste and functional advantages make it very compelling.”
Nutriati’s artesa chickpea flour, which is made from co-products of the protein production process, has proved equally attractive to food formulators, who have been working with both materials for some time, noted Spinelli, who said Nutriati had raised an initial $750k, followed by $1.5m from NRV before closing its latest, $8m, funding round.
The latest $8m funding round was supported by London-based Tate & Lyle Ventures, L.A-based PowerPlant Ventures, Virginia-based New Richmond Ventures (NRV), and San Francisco-based Blueberry Ventures.
Visit the PLT booth (#S1826) at the IFT show next week, and sample products featuring artesa chickpea protein, including high-protein, hummus, dairy- and egg-free protein chocolate chip cookies, a chai latte, and gluten-free crackers.
Pulse crops such as chickpeas draw nitrogen directly from the atmosphere, so farmers do not have to buy large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer in order to grow them. They are also a very efficient source of protein in environmental terms, requiring far less energy and water, and fewer pesticides than rival protein sources. Chickpeas are also non-allergenic and non-GMO.
Israeli chickpea-fueled start-up CHiCK.P currently has pilot-scale facilities to produce its chickpea protein, and is working with manufacturers in China and Singapore [regarding commercial-scale facilities], says co-founder Ram Reifen MD. It is also working on consumers goods that will have 'ChickP inside.'