Optimizing plant based protein yield and quality in the post-harvest chain
To prevent worldwide protein shortages it is important to optimize the recovery methods of proteins from new plant based biomass sources. The effects of post harvest conditions on the eventual yield and quality of extracted proteins is not yet known.
The growing global population will demand 30-50% more protein in the coming years. To be able to meet this growing demand within planetary constraints, a transition to the use of more plant-based proteins in both food as well as animal feed is essential. Furthermore, to prevent negative effects of intensive production on land and water use, deforestation, and soil erosion, especially in vulnerable areas like the Amazon, it is important to stimulate development of more sustainable supply chains of high quality (non-allergenic) proteins in Europe.
Development of local protein-rich supply chains requires the use of new protein crops, side streams of agricultural food crops, or non-food crops (water side plants, grass). A current blind spot within these supply chains, is the effect of post-harvest conditions on the protein yield, quality and functionality of fractions or isolated proteins. There are sound indications that the timing of harvest, handling, storage and transport conditions of the raw material affect the final yield and quality of the different proteins (e.g. RuBisCo) present in the products. However, no systematic investigations into this issue have been done.
Project aim and approach
This project represents an exploration into the potential impact of post-harvest technology to protein supply chains. The post-harvest technology field has been largely developed for fresh fruits and vegetable supply. The project first explores the potential gains from application of (novel) post-harvest technology and protein monitoring, and later, to develop practical and sustainable strategies to increase protein availability, yield and quality/functionality. The project will yield, new scientific knowledge on post-harvest protein behavior in fresh produce targeted for plant based protein industry. Next to this it will generate insights how to use post-harvest technology to maintain and monitor levels of other nutrients in different types of crops. Various types of plant material will be part of the research like leaves, grasses and dried pulses. This project should stimulate the development of healthy, safe and sustainably produced protein products for food and feed, from which the European community can benefit.