If we’re going to meet nutritional needs in the long term, we need to value our protein sources. One significant but neglected potential source is the by-products of other food production lines – aka ‘second-life proteins’. The fact that we see these discards as waste is currently making their nutritional and potential economic value a blindspot for brands, consumers and food manufacturers. But can this change?
We are actually already consuming some second-life proteins, and it’s nothing new. Marmite, a by-product from the brewing industry, came to market in 1902. This high protein yeast product was initially marketed as a food extract and a health food, due to the high nutrient content, in particular vitamin B. Whether you love it or hate it, Marmite has not been seen as a lesser product despite it technically being a waste product. How can we learn from this to address our food challenges of the future?
ReGrained is a start-up producing a protein bar made from spent grain, another by-product from the brewing industry. Its marketing turns its provenance into a plus-factor, emphasising the relationship to products we love, such as chocolate and beer. To build trust with consumers they focus on transparency around the production process, and highlight the importance and value of the product, both as a source of nutrition and in minimising food waste.
Other innovators are looking at potential uses for sugar beet leaves, which one food scientist commissioned by the Dutch government, Peter Geerdink, calls “as versatile as an egg”, thanks to a protein called Rubisco that can be extracted from the leaves and used in a wide range of products as an egg-replacement. Three million tonnes of sugar beet leaves are currently discarded after harvesting each year. Geerdink believes we could see beet leaf-based consumer products in stores in the Netherlands in a few years. There are also waste streams in animal protein that offer new opportunities.
The EU-funded SECUREfish project is tackling waste in fish, a valuable source of high quality protein amongst other nutrients. The project processes the leftover skin and bone, which is high in protein. Some of the peptides isolated from this process have similar properties seen in medications used to lower blood pressure, and also have valuable antioxidant properties that can be used in existing products such as yoghurt and milk. Including new ingredients in familiar products offers another way to overcome hesitations on the part of consumers. We are already consuming by-products of fish processing in the form of oils and common health supplements.
Waste product or superfood?
As a society we are becoming more fixated on superfoods. Most products on the shelves have added vitamins and minerals, with enhanced drinks on the rise. Even Marmite, which has always been marketed as high in vitamin B, now comes with added vitamin B12, and our milk comes with added calcium.
Could by-products be the new source of valuable nutrients? The company NewfoodZ is using pulverised citrus peel, which has a high concentration of nutrients and antioxidants, to add vitamins and flavour to food products, or as a food powder to smoothies and other health foods. The search for nutrients in by-products could play a significant role in creating a waste-free protein system.
Gradually, insights are emerging to help the consumer market embrace second-life proteins. Whether it is by first targeting the health conscious younger market, emphasising transparency in marketing, or jumping on the trend of superfoods, we have a range of starting points. Where do you see the most promise?
Forum for the Future is working to harness the potential of second-life proteins, as a waste-positive source of nutrition. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Simon Billing: firstname.lastname@example.org