Is the US pea protein market at a tipping point?

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags: Pea protein, Amino acid

Demand for plant proteins continues to rise, and pea protein’s sustainability, non-allergenicity and non-GMO message is edging the ingredient to a tipping point.

“Pretty much every food manufacturer you look at is asking about pea protein,” ​Neel Varde, PhD, senior product manager at the Roquette Innovation Center in Geneva, IL told us at the recent IFT Annual Meeting and Expo. “Pea protein is at a tipping point, and customers are requesting it for everything, from dairy to bakery and meat analogues.

“We’re definitely overcoming the initial perceptions about pea, and consumer education is a lot more than it used to be,” ​he added.

For a long time in the shadow of soy as a plant protein source, pea protein is establishing itself in food and beverage applications, from nutritional bars and sports nutrition beverages, and from pastas to batters and breadings.

Pea protein isolates have been gaining in popularity among food manufacturers because it offers a clean label, allergen-free, non-GMO, and cost effective protein when compared to other proteins

The issue with pea protein, sourced from Canada and the EU, has traditionally been flavor, but most suppliers now claim to have clean flavor profiles for their ingredients.

Indeed, Roquette recently expanded its Nutralys range of pea protein isolates with the Nutralys S85Plus form, which offers a cleaner taste for sports nutrition applications. S85Plus won Ingredient of the Year award in the sport and energy category at the 2016 NutraAwards, hosted by our sister publication NutraIngredients.com.

Sports nutrition

The ingredient is attracting attention in the sports nutrition realm because of its amino acid profile: Pea protein is rich in lysine, arginine and branched chain amino acids. Indeed, pea protein is said to be the richest source of arginine (about 8.7% on a protein weight basis).

Arginine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid since it is rate-limiting for protein synthesis. It is involved in nitrogen metabolism, in growth and in cell division. Arginine is also a precursor of creatine.

Plant protein growth

The overall plant protein market is growing by 20-25% yearly, said Dr Varde, and the sustainability message is a key driver in this. “Sustainability is now more than a corporate buzz word,”​ he said. “It started off with smaller companies focused on the food chain and ethics, but now bigger companies are equally as invested in sustainability.”

Arginine intakes of 6-12g per day have been recommended for sports nutrition.

Data from a clinical trial showed that 12 weeks of resistance training and supplementation with either Roquette Nutralys pea protein or whey produced similar results for bicep muscle thickness increases in a study with 161 men aged 18 to 35.

The data, published in 2015 in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, ​found that, for the weakest participants, pea protein supplementation produced a 20.2% increase in bicep thickness, compared with 15.6% in the whey group and 8.6% in the placebo group.

“The consumption of pea protein promotes gains in biceps brachii thickness and especially in beginners or people returning to weight training,” ​wrote researchers from Roquette and the University of Burgundy in France. “This statistical superiority compared with the Placebo and the comparable results with those obtained for Whey intake make pea protein an alternative to Whey-based dietary products for athletes from different levels and sports.”

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