New turf for alt-protein: Grass tipped as the next plant base for EU meat alternatives
07 Feb 2023 --- Grass could be the next big “ingredient” in the alternative meat space, proving to be a viable substitute to soy, according to Schouten Europe. The company is joining forces with Netherlands-based Grassa to research and test the potential of grass protein in the next few years as they apply for the EU authorities to greenlight the ingredient as a novel food.
Schouten and Grassa are linking up to test what specific foods show more promise to incorporate grass-based protein and claim that grass has an 80% lower CO2 footprint when compared to soy.
“Grass yields 2.5 times as much protein per hectare as soy and grass supplies are readily available. Compared to other protein sources, it greatly reduces the carbon footprint,” Rieks Smook, director of Grassa, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
Splitting proteins in grass
The businesses claim that the solution to many challenges in the agricultural sector “lies beneath our feet.”
Grassa makes grass better through a natural process of pressing, heating and filtering. The company says this unlocks the full nutritional value of grass for more profit and sustainability.
“We have a proof of concept facility where we process two metric tons of grass per hour,” Smook continues. Next year we are scaling up to a 32 tons per hectare facility in which we will also be able to produce food-grade material.”
Grassa can extract 30 kg of protein grass concentrate for each metric ton of grass processed.
The collaboration will further investigate how to extract the two proteins found in grass, with work being done to develop the technology to harness both proteins in a way that their functionalities remain in place and are digestible.
“Grassa currently produces nutritional protein and is developing technologies to split the green and the white protein part and to extract these proteins so that the functionality of the proteins remain in place,” Smook explains.
“The green protein has a ‘green tea’ taste and the white protein has a neutral taste,” he adds.
Reducing soy reliance
According to Smook, the EU needs to become less dependent on protein-rich crops such as soy to become more self-sufficient. Schouten and Grassa’s collaboration is timely as the new EU deforestation regulation is set to conduct stricter due diligence on companies planning to import foods like soy or palm oil.
“We intend to achieve less dependence on imports of plant-based proteins,” he says.
In terms of seeking out EU regulatory approval in the future, Smook explains how much more research needs to happen before an application can be put to the EU.
“This research will be the base for a novel food application, should this be required,” Smook continues.
According to the European Commission, the EU imported 14.5 million metric tons of soy between July 2021 and July 2022, with the largest supplier – with 8.48 million metric tons – being Brazil, causing concern about rainforest deforestation.
According to a 2021 study by Nature, the expansion of soy plantations is the country’s second largest driver of deforestation, after the growth of pasture and cattle. Specifically, in the Amazon, the soybean area increased more than tenfold between 2000 to 2019, reaching 4.6 million hectares that year – from 0.4 million hectares in 2000.
In recent authorizations, the European Commission greenlighted mung bean protein used by the company Just Egg to create eco-friendly eggs. Production of this egg alternative involves 98% less water and 84% less land than conventional chicken eggs while producing 93% fewer carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, two insect species were granted Novel Food status in the EU last year – House crickets (Acheta domesticus) and yellow mealworms (Tenebrio molitor).
While extracting protein from grass, Grassa removes the excess proteins found in the plant. The remaining grass can be upcycled and contains enough nutrients for cows to consume the product, achieving circularity.
Because of its lowered protein content, the remaining processed grass reduces cows’ carbon emissions as they emit less nitrogen. This allows cows to produce 30% less ammonia and phosphates, and 15% less methane.
Notably, Leaft Foods is another industry player leveraging a similar process of extracting protein from leaves. The New Zealand company removes excess proteins from leaves, allowing herbivore cattle that eat its residual material in order to reduce pollution.
By Marc Cervera
This feature is provided by NutritionInsight’s sister website, FoodIngredientsFirst.
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