More than two years ago, the company started commercial production of its 90% chickpea isolate, which “can be the next-gen of plant-based protein to replace animal protein,” Levy said. ChickP has shown that its ingredient can be used in meat alternatives, egg replacements, and other dairy applications beyond cheeses.
Addressing formulation challenges of plant-based cheeses
When creating plant-based cheeses, food companies need to mimic the taste and texture of animal-based products and avoid unwanted ingredients in their formulations, Levy noted. CPG companies can use ChickP's chickpea isolate “to create cheese with texture similar to the real thing … whether it’s the creamy cheese or the hard cheese,” she said.
Typically, food producers overcome the challenges to texture by relying on stabilizers, but given the ChickP protein’s “unique gelation and emulsification capabilities,” it can forgo added stabilizers like carrageenan and xanthan and guar gum.
And while “most of the products that you see in the non-dairy category are not fermented in any way,” ChickP experimented with various cultures to create a plant-based cheese with probiotic benefits. The cream cheese contains coconut oil, starch, water, and other ingredients, and through fermentation with lactic bacteria, it imparts a tangy cheese-like flavor with probiotics, Levy said.
Are chickpeas the next big protein?
Though the plant-based protein market is “mostly dominated today with soy and a bit with pea,” chickpeas have the potential to gain market share, Levy said, explaining chickpea proteins can differentiate by providing more nutrition than other plant-based proteins and addressing the need for cleaner-label products.
“Chickpea itself is a very interesting legume; it is a complete protein meaning chickpea has the nine essential amino acids…. Pea is not a complete protein, so you need to add additional proteins into it.”
The natural taste of chickpeas also means that it doesn’t have to be masked with flavors or other ingredients, allowing for a cleaner label, Levy said.
"Research today tells us that if products in the non-dairy [category] will be enriched with nutrition, meaning protein, and also ... present a cleaner label product with zero stabilizers with fewer ingredients in it, consumers will shift."
Plant-based cheese market in flux, demand for protein still on the rise
While the plant-based protein market faces headwinds including lower investments and slumping sales in multiple categories, Levy still sees growth potential for the overall plant-based market, as food companies will need to find innovative solutions to provide a growing population with protein.
“There is absolutely not enough animal protein to feed the growing population around the world. So we at the middle of the century predicted to be 10 billion people around the globe, and there isn't ... enough animal proteins.”