In 2022, an accidental outcome during an experiment in a lab in Alberta, Canada, led to the discovery of a new way to create a substance like gelatine but plant-based. Gelatine is used as a thickener in foods such as soups, sauces, and candies, as well as to make capsules for drugs and supplements, but most of it comes from cows, pigs, and fish. The new alternative version discovered in Canada comes from pea protein. This unique product is not only higher in protein than existing plant-based gelatin substitutes but also can change easily from liquid to gel.
Dr Lingyun Chen, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Plant Protein Structure Function at the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta, said to Natural Products Canada, “During an experiment, we accidentally found that certain conditions, such as pH, caused ‘thermal reversibility’ in pea protein, which could make industrial applications much easier… There is a huge global market for a plant-based gelatine substitute right now. We have more and more vegans and vegetarians who want an alternative. The growing Muslim population need Halal options, and there’s also increased interest in plant-based food as part of a more sustainable food system.”
Now, Natural Products Canada (NPC) is contributing $78,430 to help Chen’s team evaluate how the pea protein-based gelatine substitute performs in real-food applications, such as gummy bears and plant-based yoghurt. According to Chen, “The NPC money will be very important to demonstrate that our process can be used in industry. There are certain treatments, such as pasteurization, that you don’t do in the lab. If the ingredients can survive these treatments, it will be that much closer to market.”