The facility will open in October 2022 and is located in Hedensted, Denmark. The company declined to detail the size of the investment, however project manager Gijs van Elst revealed capacity will stand at approximately 25,000mt of raw material (fava beans) input.
‘Breakthrough process methodology’
One of the main barriers blocking wider use of fava bean protein by plant-based product formulators is the bitter taste and smell that can be associated with the ingredient, van Elst told FoodNavigator. “Until now the barrier for fava beans has been the typical, beany, taste.”
Meelunie is leveraging what it described as ‘cutting-edge’ processing technology from SiccaDania alongside a ‘breakthrough process methodology’ developed by the University of Copenhagen and based on research carried out over 17 years. “This process innovation ensures fully neutral taste and odour, which makes it a great allergen-free protein ingredient for food formulators,” we were told.
This innovation unlocks a host of potential applications, the plant-based innovator continued. “We will produce different types of proteins: protein isolates ideal for dairy alternatives, sports nutrition, beverages as well as protein isolate ideal for meat alternatives and bakery applications. Fava protein in general has proven to have excellent emulsifying properties. Our soluble fava protein shows great and stable foaming properties as well.”
The process innovation is also highly efficient, making use of the entire fava bean input. “The fava bean is optimally valorised in our process indeed,” van Elst confirmed.
“The innovative technology does not only capture insoluble protein and starch parts as in most other wet processes, but also removes the inner fibre and soluble protein components, generating four excellent fava ingredients that each have their unique functionality in various food applications.”
Sustainable alternative to soy
According to Meelunie CEO Marco Heering, the facility is a ‘significant step forward’ because it provides the market with a sustainable alternative to soy, which is imported to Europe and can be associated with tropical deforestation.
Indeed, behind beef, soy is the second largest agricultural driver of deforestation worldwide according to the WWF. In total, the area of land in South America devoted to soy grew from 42 million acres in 1990 to 114 million acres in 2010, mainly on land converted from natural ecosystems.
“The lack of a non-tropical alternative to soya has been a handbrake on the protein transition for some years. Because the fava bean thrives in non-tropical climates, such as Europe and North America, this facility can be a genuine gamechanger,” Heering suggested.
The location of Meelunie's processing site was chosen because it is situated near land ‘ideally suited’ to fava bean cultivation.
In addition to what the company says is a lower environmental footprint versus soy, a mainstay of plant-based products, van Elst suggested that the innovation will help answer growing demand for a wider variety of plant-based protein ingredients.
“Soy has always been an excellent plant protein that combines good functionality as well as nutritional value. There is a growing demand for new plant proteins with different characteristics that enable food formulators to create exciting new food products and we are confident that fava will become one of the frontrunners of these alternative proteins. And yes, since fava beans grow well in European climate it can help reduce the ecological footprint.”