The Fraunhofer Insititute based in Germany has spent the last four months scrutinising the biofunctional properties of Burcon's protein products in light of potential value-added health benefits.
Virgin canola proteins and partly modified canola proteins were the subjects of the investigation. Their blood cholesterol lowering activity (bile acid binding) and antioxidant activity have been well documented and the scientists have used in vitro (test tube) studies to look for positive correlations to known in vivo (living organism) studies. Other investigations included testing against standard food ingredients and selected pharmaceuticals as benchmarks.
The reults have not yet been published, but Johann Tergesen, Burcon's president and COO, told NutraIngredientsUSA that they were a mixed bag - with some expected and some much better than expected findings.
He explained that his company was disappointed with the results of the bile acid binding tests, and will continue to work with Fraunhofer to carry out new experiments.
"We expected the canola proteins to perform better than soy proteins in terms of their blood cholesterol lowering activity, but in fact their performances were very similar," he said.
However, Burcon and the researchers were extremely pleased with the anti-oxidant results.
"Fraunhofer has gone so far as to say that the results are 'remarkable'", said Tergesen, adding that the canola protein's bioavailability compared to soy was "about five-fold more".
The proteins will eventually be produced in Europe, a major canola grower, in plants in Germany and the Netherlands, to guarantee GM-free status. However, the first products containing the proteins will most likely be sold in the US as only a GRAS dossier will need to be compiled to gain access to the US food market, while in Europe the products would have to go through the novel foods process.
Protein ingredients are used in a wide variety of foods and personal care products. The protein ingredient industry is currently experiencing rapid growth and estimates place the global market in excess of $10 billion. Previous studies by Fraunhofer showed that the canola protein isolates had an exceptional purity and that they were almost 100 percent soluble in neutral conditions. Supertein was also found have good solubility in acidic settings.
Both proteins were shown to have an emulsification capacity and emulsification activity comparable to egg yolk and better than Na-caseinate under certain conditions, while Supertein was also shown to have very good whipping properties - better even than ovalbumin (egg-white).
Supertein also had a stable low-level of viscosity, a valuable attribute for some food system applications as well as certain nutritional applications, according to the report.
Both Puratein and Supertein showed better gel-forming properties and higher gel strengths than the reference soy protein used.
Dairy and egg proteins achieve high selling prices, in large part because of their excellent functional characteristics, Burcon said, another indication that the two products have significant revenue potential.
Last year, Burcon signed a contract with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) to commercialize the canola proteins, and Tergesen said that "there had been discussions" between ADM and some of its largest clients, which include Unilever, Nestle and Kraft, about adding the canola proteins to some of its foods.
According to a report from market research firm Frost & Sullivan, the US protein market alone was worth $2.64 billion in 2002, with plant proteins making up 47 per cent of total revenue and the balance coming from animal proteins.
Soy protein accounted for approximately 76 per cent of the plant protein side of the market, while milk proteins were the dominant animal protein.