Could sunflower protein join the plant-based protein major league? It ‘checks all the boxes’ says Burcon

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Burcon claims its technology can deliver sunflower protein isolates with a ‘neutral color and exceptionally bland flavor...’ Picture: GettyImages-KLSbear
Burcon claims its technology can deliver sunflower protein isolates with a ‘neutral color and exceptionally bland flavor...’ Picture: GettyImages-KLSbear

Related tags: sunflower protein, plant-based protein, plant protein

Sunflower is the world’s third largest oilseed crop behind soy and canola, so why isn’t it a major player in the plant-based protein arena?

As with canola, which is only just taking a seat​ at the plant-based protein table, it’s complicated, says Burcon NutraScience, which has just received a co-investment from Proteins Industries Canada to develop upcycled protein isolates from sunflower seeds with Canadian cold pressed oils firm Pristine Gourmet.

Traditional sunflower flours containing 50-60% protein exist in the market​,” Martin Schweizer, PhD, VP, technical development, told FoodNavigator-USA.  ​“[But] they have a darker color and come with off flavor, making them challenging in many food ingredient applications.

“Burcon’s patented technology is capable of producing high purity (>90%) sunflower proteins, with neutral color and exceptionally bland flavor. This is a game changer in the plant protein arena and should set a new benchmark for sunflower protein ingredients.”

Sunflower protein isolates with a ‘neutral color and exceptionally bland flavor’

Burcon will work with Pristine Gourmet to “fine-tune and scale up an economical extraction and isolation process”​ for protein isolates from the by-product (pressed cake) of sunflower oil production.

The scope of this project is a proof of concept to scale-up the technology, so the successful outcome of this project will lead to Burcon moving forward with the commercialization of sunflower protein ingredients​,” explained Schweizer, who said sunflower has not traditionally been grown as protein crop as the seeds don’t contain super-high levels of protein (14-18%).

However, the defatted cake – which has historically been used as animal feed - is obviously much higher in protein, he said.

“One of the deliverables of this project is to evaluate different parameters in the upfront processes, that will have an impact on producing a raw material that will allow for the best possible protein extraction.”

Consumer-friendly protein

So what’s attractive about sunflower protein isolates?

“High purity sunflower protein isolates have a neutral flavor, off-white color, and offer unique properties that make them ideal as food ingredient in a variety of applications,” ​said Schweizer, who said sunflower protein “contains all of the essential amino acids, and is particularly high in sulfur containing amino acids, a sought-after group of amino acids.”

A non-GMO crop, sunflower is not a major food allergen, and has a consumer-friendly profile, claimed Schweizer, who said he believed the regulatory path for the protein will be “straight-forward.”

Ideal for ‘formulations which require delicate flavors’

Asked about food applications, he said: “The screening of food applications is currently in progress. The unique organoleptic and functional properties of sunflower protein isolates make them the ideal candidate for many potential food and beverage applications and in particular, for formulations which require delicate flavors.

 “Sunflower protein checks all the boxes as an ideal source of plant-based protein​,” added Peter H. Kappel, interim CEO and chairman of the board at Burcon, which has licensed its technology to produce high-purity pea and canola proteins to Merit Functional Foods.

With this investment, Burcon and Pristine Gourmet can accelerate the development of value-added premium protein ingredients coming from a by-product normally used as animal feed.”

Interested in plant-based protein?​​

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Plant-based proteins continue to dominate the so-called ‘alternative protein’ category, but will this still be the case in 10 years’ time? And which emerging plant proteins – from canola, barley and hemp to Pongamia, lupin, and chickpeas – will become the next soy, wheat, and pea?

Find answers in Plant-based protein in focus: From Pongamia to chickepeas​​​​, part of FoodNavigator’s global Positive Nutrition ​​​​virtual series, now available on demand.

Click here​​​ to register to watch the event, which aired March 24.

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