Hampton Creek explores the potential of mung bean protein isolate

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture: istockphoto-aireowrt
Picture: istockphoto-aireowrt

Related tags Amino acid Hampton creek

Mung bean protein has potential applications in everything from egg substitutes to pasta and ice cream, says Hampton Creek, which has just received a 'no questions' letter from the FDA responding to its determination that its proprietary mung bean protein isolate is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). 

The no questions letter is likely to be published on the FDA’s website in mid-September, says Hampton Creek, which has been using the plant-based protein in its Just Scramble scrambled egg substitute – recently trialed in breakfast sandwiches at the University of San Francisco.

Senior director of communications Andrew Noyes told FoodNavigator-USA: “No other pilots are ongoing at this time but potential partners have sampled the product (both patty and liquid versions) as have a range of visitors to Hampton Creek HQ. Our Michelin star chefs have been hard at work perfecting Just Scramble before its foodservice and retail debut; it's important that we get it right.”

It’s an incredibly functional protein

Asked what was attractive about mung bean protein compared with other better-known plant-based proteins, he said: “It's an incredibly functional protein. The new and novel ways we apply it lead to cleaner flavor, greater solubility in water and better odor. 

Jack​ [Hampton Creek’s nickname for the protein isolate] is very versatile and can be used to make a range of other products, like ice cream and butter, both of which we've prototyped. Other examples of Jack applications include cheese, yogurt products, pasta, noodles and savory biscuits.

“When combined with our other proprietary discoveries, it can make bread, dessert mixes, dips and more.”

Asked whether additional CPG products based on mung bean protein aside from Just Scramble are in the pipeline at Hampton Creek, he said: “We may bring some of these products to market ourselves and we may license our discoveries and processes to other large food manufacturers so they can make their products better.”

He would not comment on the nature of Hampton Creek’s sourcing and manufacturing arrangements for securing commercial quantities of the mung bean protein isolate used in Just Scramble should the product attract a major foodservice or retail customer.

Just Scramble
Just Scramble on the menu at the University of San Francisco

crunchsters sprouted mung bean snacks

A dietary staple in India and China laced with protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, folate and potassium, mung beans are widely available to Americans in the form of beansprouts (which are typically made from mung beans), although most consumers are unaware of this, says Crunchsters​ founder Frank Lambert.

Read more about mung bean snack brand Crunchsters HERE​.

Expert panel

According to the GRAS determination​ ​– sent to the FDA in December 2016 and compiled by former R&D chief Dr Jim Flatt (one of three senior execs ousted in June​) – the protein isolate is intended for use “as a direct protein replacement of animal- or vegetable-based protein in a variety of conventional food and beverage products across multiple categories.”

Use levels range “from 3% ​[in a breakfast cereal] to 90% ​[in a powdered protein product] w/w of the final product​,” added Hampton Creek, which lists possible applications areas including pasta, extruded snacks, bars, crackers, fermented beverages, dairy alternatives, breakfast cereals and dips as well as egg analogs.

The determination was made by an expert panel comprising Professor Joseph F. Borzelleca (Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine), Professor Emeritus George C. Fahey, Jr. (University of Illinois), and Professor Stephen L. Taylor (University of Nebraska).

The production process

To extract the protein, raw mung beans are de-hulled and milled to produce flour, which is mixed with water and a food-grade defoaming agent to form a slurry, the pH of which is adjusted with a food-grade sodium hydroxide solution for solubilization of the target protein into the aqueous solution.

Next, the solubilized protein extract is separated from the slurry in a solid/liquid separation unit, typically consisting of a decanter centrifuge, after which the clarified protein extract is acidified, which results in precipitation and separation of the target protein from the aqueous solution.

The precipitated protein slurry is then sent to a solid/liquid separation unit with the addition of food-grade sodium chloride to adjust the ionic strength, and a protein ‘curd’ is recovered. This is then washed, pasteurized, and spray dried.

While mung beans contain anti-nutritional factors including tannins, phytic acid, and protease inhibitors, these are partially or completely removed or degraded during processing steps such as dehulling, germination, soaking, and heating, said the firm.

Illinois- based Henry Broch and Company debuted mung bean and lentil protein powders at the IFT show in June, reported our sister title BakeryandSnacks​.  


Hampton Creek is part-way through a two-year stability study for the mung bean protein isolate, but says interim results suggested the moisture, protein, oil, ash, and carbohydrate content does “not significantly change over time​.”  

The total protein content of the isolate is greater than 80% by dry weight, with the remainder composed of carbohydrates, lipids, and mineral salts.

Just Scramble patties
Just Scramble patties

Protein quality and digestibility

"From a nutritional perspective," ​says the GRAS determination. "The mung bean protein isolate was also found to contain a balanced amino acid profile that compares favorably with the FAO reference protein (FAO, 2013)."

As for protein quality and digestibility, the limiting amino acids in the mung bean protein isolate are the sulfur-containing amino acids, methionine and cysteine having the lowest amino acid score of 0.65.

Taking the amino acid score of 0.65 into account and based on a true fecal digestibility of 84% reported for mung beans (Khan eta/., 1979), the % PDCAAS score for the mung bean protein isolate is calculated as 55% (i.e., 0.65 x 84%), claims Hampton Creek.

The DIAAS (a newer method of analyzing protein quality) of the mung protein isolate is 37.3, 45.6, and 53.5% for infants, children, and older children/adolescents/adults, respectively.

As for allergenicity, “In comparison with other legumes, reported allergenic reactions to mung bean are not common,” ​claimed Hampton Creek.


Food Vision USA logo 2017

If you're interested in hearing more from Hampton Creek, head to FOOD VISION USA​ in Chicago in November, (13-15) where the company's director of cellular agriculture, Eitan Fischer, will join Geltor co-founder Alex Lorestani and The Good Food Institute senior scientist Liz Specht to talk about where cultured (aka 'clean') meat might fit into the food and farming landscape in the future.

Check out our latest list of speakers HERE​.

Take a look at the agenda HERE​.

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