Can pea milk become the non-dairy milk of choice?

With its fair share of health and environmental benefits, Louise Cullen from ProVeg Incubator believes pea milk has a bright future

21 February 2020
dairyingredientsproteinplant-basedveganfood trend

Did you know that 75% of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant? In the last decade, there has been a seismic shift in the popularity of plant-based milk, but it’s not just down to allergies. People are choosing alternatives to conventional dairy products for animal-welfare reasons, to reduce their environmental impact, for the nutritional value, and simply because they like the taste.

Half of all American and European customers now use plant-based milk, instead of or in addition to cow’s milk, while in Asian Pacific and Latin American regions that figure jumps to around two thirds. It’s actually the number-one selling product type in the plant-based sector. However, consumer trends show buyers are beginning to fall out of love with soya and a recent investigation examining connections between the world’s almond-milk obsession and the deaths of billions of bees left people wondering what they should drink now?

Fear not. There are still plenty of options for those who want to transition towards plant-based products. These include rice, coconut, oat, and hemp milk, but there is also a fresh contender nudging its way onto the field.

We come in peas

Welcome, the humble pea. This legume packs a protein punch and is one of the best plant-based sources of this nutrient that you can eat (or drink). In fact, pea-based protein powders have become popular with people looking to boost their protein intake and peas are also used in alternative meat products such as the world-famous Beyond Burger.

Now, pea protein is working its way into the dairy sector. Berlin-based startup Vly Foods has created a 100% plant-based, sustainable milk alternative using yellow split peas. Nicolas Hartmann, Niklas Katter, and Moritz Braunwarth founded Vly together in 2018 and joined the ProVeg Incubator that same year in order to develop their product and build their business. The ProVeg Incubator runs the world’s leading accelerator programme for pioneering plant-based and cultured food startups.

Vly Foods co-founders Nicolas Hartmann, Niklas Katter, and Moritz Braunwarth
image credit: Vly Foods

“To provide the same amount of protein as cow's milk, Vly requires 13 times less water, five times less acreage, and generates a total of 15 times less CO2 compared with the production of conventional dairy milk,” says the team. “Our diet is one of the most important factors influencing climate change. Peas not only have an excellent carbon footprint, but they also bind nitrogen to the soil. In this way, they actively improve the quality of arable land and reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, an even more harmful climate killer than CO2.”

Vlying high

As well as its positive effect on the environment, the unassuming pea also has its fair share of health benefits. Peas are rich in lysine, an essential amino acid that the human body cannot produce. Lysine is important for normal growth and muscle development and helps transport fats across cells to be converted into energy.

Pea protein also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, supports muscle building and regeneration, and helps to regulate appetite – keeping people feeling fuller for longer. Products developed with peas as a base ingredient are also a safer alternative for people suffering from allergies: Vly milk contains no lactose, no gluten, and no soya.

Since graduating from the ProVeg Incubator in 2019, Vly has gone on to finalise its recipe, officially launch the company, and successfully release its products for sale online and in retailers across Germany.

En route to a healthier planet 

In 2018, a study by researchers at the University of Oxford found that producing one glass of cow’s milk results in nearly three times as much greenhouse gas emissions as any plant-based alternative. So whether you’re a fan of rice milk, oat milk, or you’re ready to jump on the split-pea train, you’re already contributing to a healthier planet.

This is not the end of the story, however. Numerous scientists and startups are already working on producing lab-grown versions of the proteins that are found in cow’s milk, without the need for any animals. Additionally, the global non-dairy milk market is expected to be worth an estimated $38 billion dollars by 2024. In such a lucrative and fast-moving market, we’re likely to see plenty of exciting new innovations appearing in the future.

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