As the plant-based protein market continues to boom and demand skyrockets, food manufacturers and ingredient providers are exploring new options to keep consumers satisfied. Although many plant-based protein companies tap soy or peas for their protein ingredient, other options like canola are gaining momentum.
Canola is the world’s second-largest oilseed crop, behind soybeans. Researchers have identified canola, also known as rapeseed, as a nutritious option that has similar metabolic effects to soy. To produce oil, canola is crushed. The residual meal, which contains 36% protein, is often fed to livestock. As the plant-based food market continues to grow, some see the opportunity to redirect the residual meal into an upcycled ingredient for humans.
Each plant-based protein ingredient comes with certain limitations. Soy and wheat are two of the most common allergens in the U.S. Although pea protein poses less of an allergen problem, it can be difficult to digest for some people. Other motivations behind finding a diverse range of plant-based protein sources are promoting crop diversity and giving food manufacturers different flavor and texture profiles to work with in product formulations.
To explore canola’s potential, Burcon invested two decades worth of research into the crop. Canola naturally has two undesirable compounds — erucic acid and glucosinolates — which can pose health risks when ingested. According to the Canola Council, researchers have used breeding technologies to develop varieties of canola with lower levels of these compounds.
Food manufacturers are taking note of canola’s potential. Nestlé is working with Burcon and Merit on both pea and canola protein ingredients. The company wants to develop a range of plant-based protein options for its alternative protein product lines, which include burger patties, sausages, chicken filets and various prepared dishes.
Bunge also invested $22.8 million in Merit last year, taking a minority stake in the company. The investment helped Merit construct the new processing facility. The deal also gave Bunge a quick entry into the rapidly growing plant-based protein ingredients market, where it has already made investments in pea protein. Bunge is a promising partner for Merit because of its extensive experience in the commodities market.
Burcon and Merit have some competition in the canola protein space. Dutch health and nutrition products maker DSM and French agro-industrial group Avril are collaborating to make food protein from non-GMO canola. They are aiming to have their first product commercially available by the end of 2021.