Irish researchers explore novel approach to texturize plant-proteins: 'We found a way to spin protein into fibers'

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pictured: Screengrab from a video on Cybercolloids' linkedin page showing a member of the team handling the fibrous proteins
Pictured: Screengrab from a video on Cybercolloids' linkedin page showing a member of the team handling the fibrous proteins

Related tags: plant-based meat

Scientists at Irish contract research firm Cybercolloids have developed a novel ‘high shear spinning system’ to texturize plant-based proteins in to ‘meat-like fibers’ that is cheaper than extrusion and could potentially prove more efficient at producing large quantities of plant-based meat or meat extenders.

The approach is based on a “precipitation mechanism and equipment used in another manufacturing industry​,” and begins with plant-based protein powders combined with water and [an undisclosed but widely used] food-grade binder, said business director Ross Campbell.

“It basically requires a tank and a high shear mixer, and that’s as much as I can tell you,” ​said Campbell, who has received a flurry of inquiries from protein suppliers and meat-analog firms after a video of the resulting ‘protein fiber’ was posted on the firm’s linkedin page ​a few days ago.

“Extrusion involves high heat and pressure and expensive equipment; this would involve significantly less capital expenditure and it’s faster, you can produce significantly more per hour.”

‘We found a way to spin that protein into fibers’

Formed by ex-Unilever scientists in 2002, Cork-based Cybercolloids was originally focused on hydrocolloids but has since broadened its scope to explore plant-based proteins and techniques to valorize all parts of a plant, with a particular interest in developing value added ingredients from what’s left after target substances have been extracted, he told FoodNavigator-USA.

“Today we’ve got projects on everything from extracting pectins from what’s left from sunflower seeds ​[after the oil has been extracted], to extracting protein from lupin and potatoes, and in that process of understanding different proteins, we started looking at proteins from brewers’ spent grains and seeing if we could texturize them.

protein fiber cybercolloids

“We played around with different tricks and one of my guys who used to work in a different industry found a way to spin that protein into fibers.”

Early days

He added: “We don’t think its patentable, as the equipment has been used in other industries, so for companies that are interested in learning more, phase one would be they would supply us their protein, and we’ll work with it in the lab to optimize it ​[the texturization process for that protein], and send samples back.

“Phase two would be scale up, so we’d make kilos of the product for the client to give to their customers.

"Third phrase, and the third payment, would be IP disclosure, a thorough report including pilot plant design for that company to share with whatever engineering company they work with to create a pilot plant, or we could be retained as consultants to do that as well.”

He added: “If they want to scale up we can talk about a reasonable license or royalties.”

No sensory testing yet

Cybercolloids has not yet conducted any sensory testing on the protein fibers it has produced and has only experimented with three plant-based proteins, so recognizes that it’s very early days, said Campbell.

“It may be that it works best as a meat extender – something to add to ​[regular] meat products ​[as more firms explore the ‘blended’ trend, for example].

"We haven't been able to make enough yet to make and cook burgers and things; that would happen in the second phase, so it's still very early days."

Related topics: R&D

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