Climate-smart food innovation

using plant and seaweed proteins from upcycled sources

Food choices impact human and planetary health. The negative environmental impacts of the food system, increasing food insecurity and the prevalence of unhealthy diets are driving policymakers, scientists, companies and consumers to demand sustainable solutions. Globally, livestock emits 14.5% of GHGs, causes 30% of biodiversity loss, and meat demand is projected to double by 2050. Transitioning diets to more sustainable sources of protein is crucial.

Plant-based proteins are currently the fastest growing food trend but are dependent on soy. The IPSUS project will exploit opportunities for extracting upcycled plant and seaweed proteins from raw materials otherwise destined to join the ~1.6 billion tonnes of annual global food loss and waste (FLW). Six protein-rich sources (pumpkin, hazelnut, grape, potato, brewers' spent grain, seaweeds) were selected for study across partner countries (UK, Italy, Romania, Turkey, Morocco).

Extracting upcycled plant and seaweed proteins from raw materials otherwise destined to become food loss and waste.

The quantity, quality and upcycling opportunities of FLW along these value chains will be investigated. Novel protein extraction methods will be tested to identify less energy-intensive and more affordable techniques. The related nutritional quality and safety of the plant and seaweed sources and upcycled proteins will be assessed, taking bio-accessibility and potential allergenicity into account. Initially, the incorporation of upcycled FLW proteins into meat alternative and cheese alternative formulations will be at lab-scale, followed by pilot-scale prototype development by the industrial partners. The functional and sensory acceptability of the prototypes will be compared to existing products, additionally targeting improved nutritional (low salt, sugar, fat) and cleaner label (less chemical additives) offerings currently lacking in the plant-based meat and cheese alternatives. Exploration of consumer behaviours, preferences and the enabling regulatory and policy environment will reveal drivers and barriers of the sustainable upcycled plant-based protein shift.

Aims and objectives

Plant-based meat and cheese alternatives using livestock-free protein sources such as legumes, oilseeds and cereals are gaining importance as means for addressing the need for sustainable protein transition. Increasing the use of underutilized protein-rich by-products for such applications would be a transformative breakthrough. The IPSUS project will facilitate future-fit food system transformation in a resource efficient way by connecting sustainable protein shift (i.e., plant and seaweed protein-based food) to FLW valorisation. Supported by the joint FOSC and SUSFOODS2 programme, the three-year (2022 to 2025) IPSUS project will support three-years of partnership between researchers and industry players from six countries across three continents, to:

  1. Develop a comprehensive evidence-based analysis of FLW-containing protein-rich crops and seaweeds in the different partner countries (Italy, Romania, UK, Turkey, and Morocco) to identify side-streams of sufficient quantity, quality (% protein, safety), and upcycling potential.
  2. Assess safety, allergenicity and nutritional aspects of biomass from different side streams and apply functional fractionation-based novel extraction technology to upcycle plant and seaweed proteins which will provide higher efficacy and improved sustainability at a lower cost compared to plant protein concentrates currently available in the market.
  3. Deliver upcycled plant and seaweed protein-based meat alternatives and dairy-free cheese prototypes, and upscaled pilot products by industrial partners, while ensuring food safety, nutrition, mild processing and clean label offering with acceptable organoleptic attributes.
  4. Identify driving factors for sustainable dietary shift incorporating upcycled plant and seaweed proteins through understanding of consumer behaviours, preferences, purchasing patterns and the enabling regulatory and policy environment.