June, 2021

Plant proteins: uncovering their functional properties

The demand for an increasingly diverse range of plant-based products is leading companies around the world to invest more in research, developing products with texture and taste to meet consumer needs. For evaluating how a plant-based protein can be used in food products, it is important to know its functional properties. They are crucial, as they affect the features of the final product, such as texture, being determinant for the general acceptability by consumers.

What does it mean the term functional properties, exactly?

The functional properties of proteins are the physicochemical features that affect their behavior during food preparation and consumption. They depend on the amino acid composition, the structure and conformation of proteins, and other conditions such as pH and temperature.

Functional properties include: solubility, water holding capacity, oil holding capacity, foaming capacity, gelling capacity, and emulsion capacity.

Solubility determines the ability of the protein to be either soluble or insoluble in water. This property is very important for applications in food products. In fact, it also determines other functional properties of proteins, such as the ability to foam, emulsify or gel. Generally, a protein having excellent solubility can be used in applications such as beverages or soups.

Water binding capacity can be defined as the ability of a protein flour to retain water. A plant protein with a high water-binding capacity could be used, for example, in a cake or pizza dough.

The oil-binding capacity defines how much oil the protein can absorb. This ability can help improve the palatability of the final product, especially in the production of animal meat analogues.

The foaming capacity means that the protein once mixed with water and whipped, creates foam. In fact, with a protein with a high foaming capacity it is possible to make products such as meringues, angel cakes, mousses, or even cappuccino foam.

The ability to create gels makes the protein an excellent thickening agent in food applications. A protein having a high gelling capacity can be used in many applications; from pudding, to jellies, but also inside doughs to recreate the gluten shield, or in drinks to increase viscosity.

Emulsifying ability is the ability of the protein to form an emulsion when mixed with water and oil. This ability is especially useful for making products such as dressings, sauces, and even cosmetic creams.

Depending on their functional properties, plant proteins can therefore be used, for example, as emulsifying, gelling and foaming agents to develop new vegan or vegetarian products, or as a plant ingredient in other products.

Did you know these properties of vegetable proteins?

Protilla was born exactly to help you in the exploration of vegetable proteins, as a database where you can search for the most suitable vegetable protein ingredient for your desired application.