Choosing the appropriate protein
Regardless of the format, before a beverage developer adds protein to a formulation, a number of factors must be considered, since all proteins are not created equal. They all may provide four calories per gram, but the similarities stop there. Proteins differ in many ways, including cost, physical properties and taste, as well as source.
The latter variable represents the first decision to make when developing a protein beverage. Do you want to use animal or plant proteins, or both? Then you should determine if the product will make a protein content claim.
To be a “good” source, a serving must contain at least 5 grams of protein. Ten grams or more are required for an “excellent” source claim. Many beverage formulators pack in double that amount, and consumers are drinking it up.
Dairy proteins, in particular whey, are considered the gold standard in the protein beverage arena. Optimum Nutrition Inc., Aurora, Ill., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Glanbia and a forerunner in sports nutrition, markets a protein beverage mix called 100% Whey Gold Standard.
Whey proteins are responsible for consumers’ current obsession with protein. Less than a decade ago scientists discovered whey proteins contain one of the highest levels of the branched-chain amino acid leucine, which has been shown to have a significant role in muscle maintenance and repair. Whey proteins are considered complete proteins, as they contain all of the essential amino acids the body requires and in the right proportion.
“Whey proteins, with their high solubility at both neutral and acidic conditions, as well as complete nutritional quality, can deliver everything a beverage manufacturer needs for most protein beverage concepts,” Ms. Olson said. “The need to blend becomes advantageous only when there are extreme cost constraints, or when fortifying to exceptionally high levels, since this is where thermal stability of whey proteins can be an issue.”
Ms. Poulsen of Arla Foods added, “The industry is under pressure to deliver products that are both effective and economical in order to feed a growing and aging population. Blending high-quality proteins such as whey proteins with lower-quality and less expensive proteins such as soy, pea or rice could be the answer to this challenge.”
New and emerging protein ingredients such as algae, ancient grains, chia and flax are gaining popularity and contributing to the expansion of the plant proteins sources.
When you blend an incomplete protein source such as those from many plant sources with dairy proteins, it is still possible to maintain an overall complete protein profile since the two amino acid profiles will complement each other, Ms. Olson said.
Further, a number of clinical studies have shown blending animal and plant proteins may be beneficial for muscle maintenance and recovery. Blending is important in sports nutrition and weight management, since proteins vary in rate of absorption in the body, Ms. Whittinghill said.
Mai Nygaards, global director, Rousselot, The Netherlands, said, “Different nutritional needs require different amino acid combinations, and blending protein ingredients can help achieve the optimal amino acid balance for a specific audience.”
Mr. McKnight believes that as plant-based proteins gain more traction, the practice of blending plant and animal proteins will decrease.
“Focused sports nutrition products will continue to gravitate towards animal proteins because of their amino acid profiles,” he said. “But mainstream healthy, natural and clean label products will focus on plant proteins.”
For example, Mr. McKnight’s company markets rice bran derivatives containing 15% to 20% protein that feature other nutrients, including fiber.
“Bran is about 10% by weight of the rice kernel,” he said. “This is also where 80% of the nutrition resides. We’ve patented a process to stabilize the bran to prevent it from oxidizing, and thereby are able to provide an ingredient loaded with many nutrients lacking in today’s diet.”
It readily dissolves in water or other liquid, with some versions dissolving clear and others providing desirable opacity with or without viscosity.
Davisco offers a number of whey protein ingredients suitable for beverages.
“We have a whey protein isolate (W.P.I.) made by ion exchange,” Ms. Olson said. “This proprietary natural separation process yield 97.5% protein content on a dry basis without fat or non-protein nitrogen compounds that contribute to off flavors in protein powders.”
For more targeted nutrition beverage concepts, Davisco markets a more than 90% pure alpha-lactalbumin W.P.I.
“It delivers all of the flavor and clarity benefits of ion exchange W.P.I. but with superior heat stability, as alpha-lactalbumin is inherently heat-stable at that level of purity,” Ms. Olson said. “Additionally, alpha-lactalbumin is the highest natural source of tryptophan in foods, which makes it uniquely suitable for sleep, mood, cognition and other serotonin-associated product concepts.”
Arla Foods Ingredients has a novel whey protein concentrate composed of specially selected whey protein fractions.
“It delivers all the superior nutritional benefits of whey protein but offers unique heat stability compared with standard whey proteins,” Ms. Poulsen said. “This makes it possible to produce an ultra-high-temperature-processed drink at neutral pH based exclusively on whey as the protein source.”
The company has a whey protein hydrolysate that is absorbed more quickly by the body.
“This results in significantly faster muscle recovery after exercise, cutting recovery time from days to hours and enabling elite athletes to compete at their best,” Ms. Poulsen said.
Glanbia Nutritionals markets a W.P.I. that allows for better flavor expression than comparable proteins, according to the company.
“Having been acidified using phosphoric and citric acids, it can be used in protein-fortified teas and juices since it delivers less astringency and a cleaner flavor,” Mr. Petersen said.
On the plant protein side, the company has developed a flax and chia ingredient for easy incorporation into beverage applications.
“The super-finely milled white chia seed is a rich source of calcium and can be used to build viscosity in beverages,” he said. “The ultra-smooth texture of the powder brings good dispersibility, and its minimal visual impact does not compromise on taste or texture.”
I.D.F. markets a line of chicken protein concentrate powders ranging from 70% to 90% protein. Unlike dairy, these are considered an allergen-free source of complete protein.
“The chicken protein concentrates have no bitter or beany flavors and offer a savory profile,” Mr. Dake said. “Our chicken bone broth is very high in protein and has virtually no fat. Now that bone broth is trending, we might see it in more beverages such as sipping broths.”
This past year bone broth emerged in the packaged goods sector as both a cooking tool and beverage with its claim to fame being collagen content and concentrated minerals.
“Collagen protein is not the best for muscle growth, but is great for joints, skin and hair,” Mr. Dake said. “This is a great example of a specific kind of protein product targeted to a specific outcome. With millennials’ open minds, this trend could spread from sipping broth to fortified coffee products.”
Ms. Nygaards agreed that collagen ingredients present an interesting spin on protein-fortified beverages.
“Collagen peptides can boost protein levels and provide anti-aging benefits,” she said.
Rousselot’s range of collagen peptides have neutral organoleptic properties and may be blended with other protein sources as well as other nutrients.
Today’s consumers seem open to new plant and even insect proteins for sustainability and social reasons, Mr. Dake said.
“We are really just getting started on understanding protein functionality in regards to health,” he said.