With growing consumer interest in health and wellness and increasing number of protein food and beverages in the market, it is key that consumers be aware that not all proteins are created equal and how proteins of different sources differ nutritionally.
For the food and beverage manufacturers exploring to develop new product innovations with protein, the functional differences in addition to nutrition are just as important for successful product development.
AFBR recently interviewed Kristi Saitama, Vice President, Global Ingredients Marketing of US Dairy Export Council (USDEC) to gain more in-depth insights on why dairy proteins have a leading edge over alternative dairy products/ingredients when it comes to product formulation and production. The following are excerpts from the interview:
(1) Based from a F&B manufacturer and consumer perspective, what would be the 5 main reasons which could make dairy products (mainstream) stand out compared to dairy alternatives ?
Food and beverage manufacturers today have a wide and expanding range of ingredient choices, including for protein ingredients. Choosing the right protein ingredient is essential to deliver the consistent appearance, taste, functionality, nutritional and sustainability attributes that consumers want. US dairy suppliers offer a diverse lineup of dairy proteins that satisfy these diverse application needs. Further good news is that the United States’ sustainably produced milk supply has ample expansion potential to meet growing global demand for these sought after ingredients.
Among the most vital considerations for food and beverage formulators when developing a health and wellness product is the nutritional quality of the ingredients utilised. Protein ingredients are not all the same nutritionally, as the quality of the protein can differ widely based on amino acid composition, the digestibility of that protein, and the bioavailability of the digested and absorbed amino acids derived from that protein. The advantage of dairy- based whey and milk protein ingredients are that they are nutritionally complete sources of protein, having the full array of essential amino acids in adequate amounts required by the body. In contrast, most alternative protein sources (beyond soy) are incomplete, nutritionally lower quality protein sources due to lower concentrations of amino acids and/or the protein being less digestible and/or bioavailable. To obtain a similar amount of biologically available (useable) essential amino acids from a lower quality protein, a consumer would need to consume more of the food or protein source. From a formulation perspective, this could mean that more of the plant protein would need to be used as well as blending of protein sources may be required to fill gaps. This, in turn, could result in higher calories and costs, as well as have functional performance and taste implications on the final product.
Yet, nutritional quality is just the start when it comes to the advantages of dairy protein ingredients. Dairy protein’s neutral flavor profile is critically important because consumers will not compromise on taste. Dairy proteins are often combined with plant to offset sensory challenges from plant proteins. The breadth of functionality and usage versatility that the lineup of dairy proteins offer are an ideal fit across many food and beverage applications, whether Western or Asian style. Moreover, this combination of flavor and multifunctionality benefits consumer-friendly clean label opportunities, through reducing the need for using food additives and flavor maskers.
(2) It was said that dairy processing requires less complex steps compared to dairy alternatives. Can you elaborate on this ?
Commercial processing of protein ingredients involves a variety of processing steps and techniques that vary based on source material, method and end-product produced. This can, in turn, impact the degree of processing and impact on environmental resources. Dairy proteins are produced using clean label friendly physical separation methods via filtration steps, rather than chemical separation. As dairy proteins are water soluble, it is essentially as simple as removing water and filtering by particle size. In contrast, proteins from plants are not naturally water soluble, for example peas, beans and nuts not readily dissolving in water. As such, processing of some plant protein concentrates and isolates may require the use of processing aids beyond water in order to extract the protein, such as solvents (e.g. hexane, ethanol and alcohol), salts, acids (e.g. 1-2 N HCL), caustic agents (e.g. 1-2 N NaOH), bases, etc.
The above Chart 2.0 indicated that dairy alternatives derived from pea,rice and potato require several extra steps to extract the protein, as compared to milk and whey proteins which undergo simpler processing.
(3) Dairy proteins have greater versatility and less wastage. Can you illustrate this statement ?
Dairy protein’s multifaceted nutritional and functionality benefits are a key reason why they are a sought after ingredient used in wide ranging products that delight consumers across geographies, gender and age groups. If you walk up and down a supermarket aisle in the US or other markets where dairy protein usage is well rooted, you will find them in the ingredient statements of a multitude of products. Some examples are sports nutritional powders, child nutrition formulas, medical nutrition products, beverages, yogurt, potato chips, protein bars and bites, pancake mix, oatmeal, desserts, ready meals and side dishes, soups and dressings, and even ice cream.
At a time when environmental consciousness is on the rise, waste reduction is perhaps a lesser known but also significant benefit of dairy proteins. Whey protein itself is a co-product of the production of cheese, created by harvesting nutritionally valuable proteins from milk during the cheesemaking process and turning them into multifunctional ingredients. The exciting thing is that availability is not limited to cheesemaking today. Milk proteins (composition 80% casein and 20% whey) can also be separated from milk directly, thanks to advances in filtration. These milk protein ingredients bring unique properties for different formulations, widening the applications that can include dairy’s valuable nutrition and taste.
Looking at protein ingredients overall, during protein isolation/ purification, non-protein co-products are produced which must ultimately be utilised or disposed. A landscape survey commissioned by the National Dairy Council (US) and completed in 2020 compared the commercial processing of 17 protein ingredients (dairy, plant and insect) from post-harvest through production of the finished dry protein powder, including if and how the co-products are utilised. The survey found that dairy protein processing tends to find more value- added uses in food applications than those of alternative proteins. A key example is dairy permeate, the lactose and mineral rich co- product of whey protein and milk protein manufacturing. In this fashion, dairy ingredient processing fosters every drop of milk to be utilised rather than wasted, to nourish consumers around the world and contributing to sustainable food systems.
(4) In terms of sustainability, how does dairy proteins compare to its protein alternative counterparts ?
Dairy protein maximises value for food and beverage manufacturers. The same 2020 landscape survey found that US dairy proteins may have a similar environmental impact to plant proteins when considered from the perspective of nutritional quality rather than according to the food’s raw weight or caloric content.
The US dairy community has a long legacy of environmental stewardship and sustainability, and a strong track record of taking action to protect the planet. When comparing 2017 with a decade earlier in 2007, producing a gallon or about 3.8 litres of milk in the US involved 30% less water and 21% less land, while greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 19%. This was accomplished through innovative practices such as maximising cow comfort (e.g. some have waterbed mattresses), optimising balanced nutritional intake via feeding practices, genetics, and investments in technology like methane digesters. And, US Dairy remains fully committed to continue to make further progress while always innovating and investing to produce dairy products with fewer resources. This includes aggressive new sustainability targets announced in 2020 to become carbon neutral or better by the year 2050.
In fact, a 2019 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Global Dairy Platform on climate change found that North America is leading the world when it comes to efforts to reduce dairy greenhouse gas emissions. North America was the only region of the seven studied where both emissions intensity and absolute emissions fell for the timeframe of the report (2005-2015) while overall milk production rose.
(5) With the current pandemic situation, the issue of nutrition (especially choosing the right nutrition) has taken a far more important role in consumer well-being. What is your take/advise on this?
In COVID pandemic times and always, consuming nutritious foods and beverages is important to help the body stay strong and healthy and help provide defenses against illnesses. Dairy’s unique nutritional package including vitamin D, calcium, protein, etc. is an important part of a healthful daily diet across lifestyles and life stages, from a growing child, to a weight or fitness conscious adult or active senior.
A unique concern during pandemic times is that people may be having more sedentary lifestyles, given restrictions on visiting fitness centers or other limitations on usual exercise activities in public places. Such reduced physical activity could risk a loss of muscle mass, the type of loss known as sarcopenia that is typically seen in older adults or after hospitalisation for an illness. Studies have shown that whey protein can support muscle health (muscle protein synthesis and maintenance of muscle mass) while helping to mitigate the negative impacts of physical inactivity. Notably, whey protein leads as a food source of the branched chain amino acid leucine, which is an important trigger to initiate muscle protein synthesis.
(6) With a global population reaching 10 billion by 2050, what do you foresee to be the future of mainstream dairy proteins/products ?
Ensuring consumers around the world in both developed and developing nations and across all life stages have steady access to nutritious, environmentally friendly and affordable food and beverage products is of vital importance to feed a rising global population. This includes both animal foods like dairy and plant based foods, not one or the other. Today, nutrient deficiencies exist in low- and middle- income populations that consume mostly plant-based diets. Dairy can complement plant-based diets by providing a unique and hard- to-replace nutrient package that can raise intake levels of nutrients that are low or absent in plant-based diets.
Especially, every bite counts when we think of providing and innovating foods that meet the nutritional needs of malnourished or vulnerable populations as well as older adults and seniors in an aging society that have special nutritional needs. US dairy ingredients like whey and milk proteins provide food and beverage formulators an ideal sweet spot of a ‘no-compromise’ ingredient solution that is concurrently healthful for the body as well as the planet. As a nutritionally complete source of protein, dairy proteins can play a positive role in addressing the triple burden of malnutrition (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight) while supporting sustainable food systems.