Chickpeas: A rising star of the dairy alternatives market?

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

ChickP launches protein isolate for plant-based beverages
ChickP launches protein isolate for plant-based beverages

Related tags plant-based dairy-free Protein

Israeli start-up ChickP believes its line of next-generation chickpea isolates could help chickpea-based dairy alternatives become a rising star in the plant-based space.

Demand for plant-based alternatives to dairy products is rising apace. According to data from Innova Market Insights, three times as many plant-based dairy alternatives are launched globally than the average rate across food and beverage. The research provider reported a 22% compound annual growth rate between 2014 and 2018, with Europe leading the way – accounting for 38% of total alternative dairy launches in 2018.

ChickP wants to tap into this growth market through its new chickpea-based ingredient. According to the company, this ‘ground-breaking’ plant protein uses patent-pending technology to extract up to 90% pure protein out of the chickpea seed. The process was developed with the faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The chickpea isolates help alternative dairy producers overcome challenges in processing as well as boosting consumer acceptance and fulfilling the demand for highly nutritious and tasty products, the company said.

“We are aware of the challenges in creating milk alternatives, which are mostly solubility issues and taste. We have developed chickpea isolates which are highly soluble, high in protein and have a neutral taste and therefore fit for milk alternatives,”​ Ram Reifen, MD, founder and CSO of ChickP, told FoodNavigator.

Taste and texture

This neutral taste profile is an important differentiator for the ingredient. Many plant-based proteins can create bitter or off flavours that require masking by addition of sugar, artificial flavours, or other masking agents. In contrast, the ChickP protein’s neutral flavour, mitigates the need for sugar or flavour additives in the products, the company explained.

“The challenge in extracting the chickpea protein is to overcome the bitter taste that plan-based proteins usually have. Our patented technology enables us to produce high-protein, functional with neutral taste protein powder,”​ Reifen said.

ChickP has also been able to overcome the texture challenge presented by some other plant-based proteins, which can have sandy or chalky textures that negatively affect the overall sensory experience.

ChickP’s development also boasts high solubility and smooth viscosity, meaning it is suitable for applications that require a smooth mouthfeel that does not curdle when heated. ChickP protein was designed to provide a strong, smooth texture and emulsion stability, while having high solubility and smooth viscosity, the company stressed.

“We tested the chickpea ingredient across a range of parameters, including functionality, flavor, nutrition profile, and protein content,”​ noted Reifen.

“Sensory parameters such as taste, colour, and texture are the key factors for success in launching any new product in the marketplace. Plant-based milk alternatives that contain ChickP have been shown to mimic cow’s milk and yogurt better for taste, mouthfeel, and nutritional value.”

Free-from, nutritious and clean label

Reifen has a particular interest in developing nutritious products that are free from the common allergens.

He is a pediatric gastroenterologist and a professor of human nutrition, as well as the director of the Centre for Nutrigenomics and Functional Foods at Hebrew University. He has also served as a committee member for WHO and the European Union on issues related to food, nutrition, and health

Reifen’s research has focused on utilising the whole chickpea to fighting malnutrition in children and mothers. Reifen led multiple studies involving chickpea cultivation, formulation of chickpea-based weaning foods in developing countries, as well as immunological studies related to the legume.

The reason for this specific interest in chickpea potential is its nutritional profile and non-allergenic status.

Dairy, soy, and tree nuts — the most common milk and milk alternative sources — are common allergens. In contrast, chickpeas allergies are ‘exceedingly rare’. ChickP proteins are non-GMO, and does not contain phytoestrogens.

The nutritional content of dairy alternatives is usually lower than that cow’s milk when it comes to protein, can also contain lower contents of other essential nutrients and tend to be higher in sugar. ChickP powder contains 90% protein, ≤8.0 moisture (the drier the better), and less than 0.1% fat. Low fat levels are important since high fat content decreases shelf life and can lead to off flavours, the company explained.

Dairy alternative products can contain artificial flavours, colouring, emulsifiers, masking ingredients, and other additives that help them mimic dairy. ChickP says the functional characteristics of its protein isolate mitigate the use of such ingredients, allowing for shorter, cleaner labels.

From start-up to scale-up

ChickP was founded in 2016. The company developed and manufactured its products in pilot scale in various plants. It has begun scale-up operations and is producing several types of chickpea isolates.

“We scaled up our processing production in October 2019 and we are set to market the ingredient to alternative dairy companies as well as to dairy companies that are seeking high-quality protein options,”​ Ron Klein, CEO of ChickP, noted.

It is also working to broaden its ingredient offering, Reifen added. “ChickP provides solutions to various kinds of products… We intend to launch more ChickP ingredients designed for other food applications such as meat analogues.”

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