Plant protein researchers hope to make most of Saskatchewan crops

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Plant protein researchers hope to make most of Saskatchewan crops
WATCH: The demand for plant protein is climbing, and with such a huge agricultural industry, researchers say there's plenty of incentive for Saskatchewan farmers – Feb 1, 2020

Saskatchewan researchers are trying to make the most of the province’s crops as the demand for plant proteins continues to rise.

Two University of Saskatchewan researchers recently received funding from the Agriculture Development Fund that could help local farmers capitalize on the trend.

Mike Nickerson, research chair in protein quality and utilization, is trying to create a healthier version of tempeh, a popular meat alternative. He plans to combine Saskatchewan lentils and peas with oats to make non-soy, non-GMO tempeh with a complete amino acid profile.

“There’s a huge market push towards plant proteins and plant protein products,” Nickerson told Global News. “One of the biggest market areas is meat alternative products.”

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Research in this realm creates the opportunity to find new markets for local crops, he said.

“A lot of our crops are being sold on commodity prices in export markets, and we don’t really do a lot of the value-added processing here in Saskatchewan,” he said.

“This will have a trickling down effect on economics [and] help farmers in the province.”

Researcher Supratim Ghosh is working to find a plant-based alternative for beverage additives that come from animals, like whey protein.

“What we’re trying to do here is utilize the resource we have in our province, which is our pulses — pea, lentil, chickpea, fava bean,” Ghosh said.

“Instead of exporting the pulse, if we can utilize them as a novel ingredient in the beverage industry, then their value goes tremendously higher.”

He’s trying to find a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to extract plant proteins, as current processes use a significant amount of water.

Research around plant proteins is on the rise, he said.

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“Since 2015, it saw explosive growth,” he said. “This is a real trend and this is also a hot topic these days, and consumers, they really want it.”

The two researchers received roughly $500,000 for their projects, and hope to have results in three years.

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