Last year, Food Spark looked at some of the up-and-coming plant proteins that were emerging, including flour made from upcycled sunflower seeds. This idea is now being tested in products by some well-known brands.
Planetarians is the start-up behind the flour. It has been working with Italian food companies Barilla and poultry specialist Amadori to create high-protein, sustainable and scalable SKUs.
Using sunflower seeds left over from oil extraction, the ingredient tech business has developed a process to provide functional fibre, while producing a palatable protein and balancing the amino acid profile. Its flour contains three times the protein and twice the fibre of wheat flour, according to the company, and can be produced at the same cost.
Now, Barilla’s R&D team has tested the ingredient in its lab as well as launching into full-scale trials, incorporating Planetarians’ flour into dough-based items like pasta, bread, biscuits, tortillas and crackers.
“The main goal was to identify the optimal usage level of Planetarians’ flour to keep the same parameters and characteristics in industrial technical process and final product,” Planetarians’ founder and CEO Aleh Manchuliantsau told Food Spark’s sister site Food Navigator.
When it came to bakery applications, Barilla’s researchers found increasing the water content allowed them to achieve the same outcomes with the plant protein flour, while no macro problems were reported in forming, baking or during the yeast-leavening stage.
Pasta proved more problematic. Compared to semolina, the sunflower-based flour had issues with water absorption, while the impact on shelf-life is still under evaluation. However, the products were easily made using the current machinery and there were no problems with drying.
“Given these results, it turns out it is possible to move to the stage of development of a specific recipe, given the desired technical characteristics of the product and its taste,” explained Manchuliantsau. “Our goal was to confirm that our ingredients can work on standard equipment to allow it wide use and we got it.”
Barilla has now also invested in Planetarians as part of a seed-funding round.
Amadori wanted to test the flour as a protein blend for meat and vegetables, in a move to appeal to consumers who want to reduce their meat consumption.
Trials were done with burger patties and breaded meat lines, but meatballs turned out the best. The biggest issue was a loss of humidity when using the ingredient, which led to a dry final product – though the addition of sauces, vegetables and tomato paste helped, according to Amadori.
The poultry producer was convinced, however, that Planetarians’ flour had a potential application in meat. “The positive characteristics of the product are the colour, which is very similar to beef meat, and the increased amount of protein per serving,” said the company.
It is now testing the flour on 10 more products, including lasagne.
“With Amadori, we worked on flexitarian meals. When we reduce cholesterol in meat applications – replacing animal proteins with plant-based proteins – we are simultaneously enriching them with fibre,” said Manchuliantsau.
“Amadori is ready to start market tests once we get EFSA approval to use our ingredients in food applications on EU territory.”
Colourful creations and sustainability
Planetarians’ innovation is significant, said Manchuliantsau, because it enables food makers to differentiate their products on a number of levels.
Not only does it enable brands to convert bakery applications into a good source of protein, he explained, but the sunflower flour gives products a distinctive black colour which would enable manufacturers to distinguish new products from their existing lines.
It also taps into the current trend for products with sustainability credentials, including ones that reduce food waste in the supply chain.
“Offering products with upcycled ingredients, brands can combat climate change with every bite and offer customers to do the same. You don’t need to grow more crops, occupy more land, consume more water,” he said. “Repurposing by-products for direct human consumption, you reduce the greenhouse emissions and combat climate change. Making protein affordable you fight food insecurity for current and future generations.”
Manchuliantsau is now looking for more food companies to work with on new products.