Enzymes potential for the plant protein industry

We spoke to Dr. Kim Langfelder, Business Director NBD, AB Enzymes (Germany), about his expert view on the potential for enzymes in the plant protein industry. AB Enzymes is a also a member of the research PROMINENT consortium (prominent-protein.eu).

What is the potential for enzymes in the plant protein industry?
In a world where people are looking for more sustainable processes and more efficient use of materials, enzymes increasingly provide solutions to these challenges. Especially where companies are using large-scale processing of food crops and other biological materials, enzymes often provide both cost savings and at the same time make processing more efficient, resulting in reduced side streams and a reduction in the amounts of raw materials needed. In many cases the use of enzymes also allows the reduction or even the elimination of some or all chemical additives during processing and can lead to improvements in product quality.

Which technologies offer new opportunities in this respect?
While enzymes have been used in processing food crops for thousands of years (e.g., the malting process in brewing, fermentation in baking) the increasingly widespread use of enzymes in industrial-scale processing of cereals and other food crops and the targeted use of specific enzymes for specific processing steps is opening up many new opportunities. Understanding how enzymes modify the processes and which substrates are being targeted in the process, coupled with increasingly sophisticated technologies to tailor enzymes to the specific application, mean that in many processes enzymes can support in increasing yields (e.g., of flour from wheat processing) and extracting as much value from the raw material as possible. This is very relevant for the cereal processing industry as it means that they are less dependent on the fluctuating prices of the raw materials. In addition, enzymes typically result in much lower greenhouse-gas emissions, making the processes both more efficient in terms of yield as well as resulting in an overall improvement of the process sustainability. In many cases enzymes can also lead to a reduction or even a complete elimination of chemicals in such processes, making the processes both cheaper and less hazardous overall.

What are the biggest limitations or obstacles to using cereal-based protein at present?
While more efficient separation of the raw-material components from plant sources is a key element in using cereal proteins at present, there is also a need to make the proteins more widely usable. Here the use of enzymes can also help to modify the materials (such as the proteins) to improve their functionality. This is likely to become increasingly relevant for plant-derived proteins in order to make use of them across many different applications. If it is possible in the future to both increase the yields of specific protein components from plant sources, as well as modifying them in a way that makes them more widely usable (e.g., by eliminating negative characteristics and / or providing new functionalities) then this will make plant-derived proteins, which are inherently more sustainable than animal-derived proteins, much more widely used for a range of different applications.

The aim of the research partnership PROMINENT is to develop techno-economically and environmentally viable protein ingredients and foods from wheat & rice side streams. Participants in PROMINENT are: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd (project leader), Südzucker AG, AB Enzymes, Upfront, United Biscuits, Barilla, Olvi, LUKE and Bridge2Food.

site partners







> Disintegration, fractionation and extraction technologies: bioprocessing, dry and wet milling, air classification, novel extraction solvents, membrane separation, expanded bed adsorption
> Enzymatic and thermo-mechanical methods to improve techno-functional and sensory properties of protein ingredients
> Applications: pasta, biscuits, cakes and beverages.
> Assessment of quality, techno-economic feasibility, sustainability and market potential.
> Designing strategies for marketing, dissemination, and exploitation of innovations.

This 3 year project with a value of € 3.1 Million (2015-2018) has received funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 668953− PROMINENT.