CRANBURY, N.J. — Having spent decades working with plant protein sourced from soy and wheat, Archer Daniels Midland Co. now is taking what was learned and applying it to more novel plant protein sources. Solving flavor and functionality issues in protein sourced from legumes like peas or ancient grains like quinoa could unlock opportunities for food formulators.

“We have many years of experience modifying proteins based on soy and wheat and other ones, and we believe that if a customer is in need of a protein with a higher emulsification capacity or a higher solubility, we will be able to modify it,” said Dina G. Fernandez, protein ingredients specialist.

ADM on May 8 held an event for a new culinary center in its Cranbury facility, where ADM customers have the opportunity to work with chefs, food scientists, flavorists and protein experts, said Marie Wright, vice-president and chief global flavorist. The culinary center, about 4,000 square feet, expands the overall Cranbury facility to 20,000 square feet.

ADM wants to increase its portfolio of ingredients with a higher protein concentration, defined as 50% or more protein, said Andrew Miller, director of alternative proteins. Protein ingredients with a lower concentrate, or less than 50%, would be grist and flour.

Chefs Nate Schomers and Phil Stepler prepare a vegetarian General Tso's dish at ADM's new culinary center.

“The functionality for the novel plant proteins has not quite achieved the level of technological maturity of the soy or wheat (proteins),” he said. “So that’s something we’re very excited about, being able to apply our over half a century of experience in plant protein processing to novel proteins and delivering novel plant proteins, including at higher concentration levels, that have super functionality and a much cleaner taste.”

Pea protein may come with unwanted green, grassy notes. Processing adjustments and flavor modulators may help solve those problems, Ms. Wright said. Because of the high demand for protein from legumes like peas, investments are being made in production technology, she said. The novel plant protein sources still need work in such functional issues as emulsification capacity or solubility, Ms. Fernandez said.

ADM may be less likely to develop ancient grain ingredients with a higher concentration of protein. Besides protein, ancient grains in their whole form contain fiber and phytonutrients, Ms. Fernandez said.

“Ancient grains are so valuable in their native state,” Mr. Miller said. “The economics would be a primary challenge in developing a more concentrated protein product from ancient grains.”

ADM already has a “robust” line of soy proteins, and ADM Milling provides wheat protein, Mr. Miller said. The company’s VegeFull line provides protein from beans but at lower protein concentrations. Golden Peanut and Tree Nuts, an ADM subsidiary, also may be a source for plant-based proteins. ADM will focus on building its supply of plant protein from such sources as pulses, quinoa and pumpkin seed.

ADM Wild Flavors facilityAcquiring Wild Flavors GmbH in 2014 gave ADM more expertise and flavor tools when working with plant protein.

“One of the key competencies that has enabled us to accelerate or develop plant proteins with improved flavor profiles is the competency in taste that Wild has delivered to ADM,” Mr. Miller said. “That’s where we are more precisely able to describe the sensory profile of plant-based proteins, to map that to specific flavor compounds that could be challenging and then actually translate that into production design in order to deliver first a plant-based protein with a cleaner taste but then also to even further modify that protein in the finished product formulation to deliver an overall superb sensory experience.”

The Wild acquisition brought with it a culinary kitchen lab in Erlanger, Ky. ADM also recently acquired Eatem Foods Co. and its culinary center in Vineland, N.J. ADM this year opened an 8,900-square-foot customer innovation center in Singapore. A facility in Australia is open, and a facility in Berlin should open later this year.