Researchers in the Netherlands have investigated the molecular structure of plant proteins that must provide alternatives for the animal proteins in our food over the next 10 years. They discovered that proteins with a similar chemical structure behaved differently after heating. The behaviour of the proteins after heating plays an important role in the development of a new type of meat substitute product.
Francesca O’Kane used various proteins from peas and soya for her research. After heating the plant proteins formed a gel from which she could deduce the structure of the proteins after heating. Although the pea protein legumin has a structure which is very similar to the soya protein glycinin, O’Kane discovered clear differences between the two proteins after heating. The gel of the soya protein could be repeatedly heated without the gel losing its strength or flexibility. This was not possible with the pea protein gel, due to its unusual spatial structure. Upon repeated heating this gel became increasingly stiff.
The greatest stumbling block in the design of foodstuffs using non-animal proteins is the unpredictability of the final product’s structure, the so-called texture. O’Kane used several proteins from peas to map the behaviour of plant proteins. She followed the molecular structure of the proteins in three stages: the unfolding during heating, the aggregation after heating and the eventual formation of a network, in which the proteins formed a gel. The formation of the gel provides a model for how proteins aggregate.
Sonja Jacobs | alfa
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