Pulse Beat Individual Articles

The Prairie Plant Protein Project

Results and industry opportunities

Laina Hughes, Research Communications Officer, Red River College – Spring 2021 Pulse Beat

A cursory glance around the shelves at your local grocery store reveals a growing trend in the market: plant-based products like non-dairy cheeses made from cashews, almond beverages and jackfruit jerky are comfortably nestled in among their more common meat and dairy-based counterparts.

A closer look reveals that more and more Canadian prairie crops are finding shelf space in grocery stores, too. Hemp hearts, oat milks and pea proteins are gaining traction as novel protein ingredients in response to increased consumer demand for healthy, sustainable protein sources.

With an abundance of plant protein potential right here in the prairies, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership Ag Action Manitoba and Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers are currently funding a project to further develop Manitoba crops like hemp, faba (or fava) beans, dry beans and soybeans into new and novel food products.

The project is a collaborative one, playing to the strengths of three local research groups. The Prairie Research Kitchen at Red River College is working with the University of Manitoba’s Food and Human Nutritional Sciences department, as well as the Food Development Centre on the project titled, “Development of value-added food platform technologies using plant-based protein sources including bean, soy and hemp.”

Heather Hill, a research manager at the Prairie Research Kitchen, has a food science background and considerable experience working with pulse ingredients. She says the project was a good opportunity to focus on plant proteins that are commonly found in the Canadian prairies.

“We’re finding that consumers right now are really interested in plant proteins, so we’re trying to get our Canadian and Manitoban ingredients into the hands of consumers in novel and innovative ways,” she says. “Here in the Canadian prairies, farmers are growing plant protein sources like pulses and we can then use these plant proteins to feature Canadian ingredients.”

The project focused on extracting functional proteins from novel plant sources to form a tofu-style product from a range of prairie crops. Some of the research front-runners so far are faba bean, soybean and hemp, while researchers are undertaking further research and development work on protein extracted from black beans, navy beans and pinto beans. The proteins can be extracted through a relatively straightforward process and then coagulated, in much the same way that soy tofu is created.

“The Food Development Centre has been doing work on optimizing extraction and the technology that’s needed. Our Prairie Research Kitchen team has been working on coagulating them into proteins that can be used by consumers here,” says Hill. “Our research chefs are using them in innovative ways to make new food products and recipes.”

Research chefs at the Prairie Research Kitchen initially used the plant proteins to develop tofu, then transformed these proteins into food applications to meet the growing plant-protein food trends as meat and dairy extenders and replacers, as well as condiments, desserts and entrées. Through post-processing treatments like dehydration, novel prairie tofus are transformed to a product resembling ground meat texture and used, in one example, as a taquito filling.

“We’re blending different plant proteins to help improve the quality of the protein,” says Hill. “By blending plant proteins, like faba bean with hemp, we’re getting a different combination of amino acids and that is much more nutritional and provides a more complete protein.”

The Prairie Research Kitchen team is taking their own approach to food development using the extracted, coagulated proteins. They will be publishing a new cookbook later this year that highlights all of the applications developed within this project — like a navy bean ice cream and a faba bean crème patisserie.

“We’re using a whole variety of different pulses and prairie plant proteins and products,” says Hill. “We’re seeing that our faba bean ingredients are really functional proteins that are interesting to convert into a total product, and we’re also combining that with hemp and soy to make very new and novel food products. That’s looking very promising right now.”

Our upcoming recipe book, Prairie Plant Proteins, will highlight the different ways to use plant proteins in various food formulations.