Protein from Leaves? 🍃 [GreenGut Weekly Find, 10/23]

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Hope you’re enjoying your Friday, fellow nerds! 🌞😎 In this week’s edition of the GreenGut Weekly Find, we’re addressing the age-old question asked of and endlessly answered by vegans everywhere…

“Where do you get your protein??” 💪🏻

The Leaf Protein Company, located in South Australia, has a unique answer: leaves.

Yep, leaves. 🍃🍃 Pereskia leaves, to be exact. It’s a simple, yet wild, concept — and they’re harnessing it to create protein ingredients that have the potential to transform the health profile of plant-based products.

Protein, Cactus Style

When you want a green, clean protein, it makes sense to go right to the source. For cofounders Rob Blum and Fern Ho, that’s pereskia aculeata — a member of the cactus family native to Brazil. Unlike most cacti, pereskia has true leaves, which Brazilians common enjoy as a leafy green veggie. 🥬

Also called Barbados gooseberry, blade-apple cactus and leaf cactus, 🌵 pereskia enjoys dry, arid climates and will grow prolifically where other major protein crops—like soy—has difficulty thriving. This hardiness has earned it the classification as a weed in many areas, and yet it’s highly nutritious and has numerous applications both as a food and a source of food ingredients.

(This isn’t necessarily surprising. Several plants consider weeds here in the U.S., like garlic mustard and dandelions, 🌻 are also edible and good for us.)

Image by liqionary from Pixabay (These aren’t pereskia — just amazing cacti!)

More Than a Leaf 🍂

What does pereskia have going for it nutritionally?

  • It’s a good source of calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C.
  • It’s high in fiber.
  • It has a significant protein content (including, interestingly, a decent amount of the amino acid tryptophan).

This last point is where The Leaf Protein Company’s focus lies. Because the plant is drought tolerant, contains no known allergens and can produce as much is twice the protein per acre compared to soy, 📈 it presents a sustainable alternative to proteins commonly used in plant-based products.

The company’s first protein ingredient, pereskia concentrate, contains about 46 g of protein per 100 g of product (close to 50%) as well as 20 g of fiber. It resembles flour and can be used both in functional foods and by home bakers looking for healthier flour alternatives. Next up will be pereskia isolate, a water-soluble white powder made for use in plant-based foods and high-protein snacks. At 80% protein, it has considerable potential to replace the less-sustainable choices in products currently on the market.

Healthy Protein, Healthy People

By focusing on pereskia’s health qualities and sustainable nature, Blum and Ho seek to create a clean label product 🧼 that requires no chemicals or additives for extraction. They also work closely with the growers supplying their company to ensure they’re able to maintain sustainable farms as part of the enterprise.

It’s their hope that alt protein companies will start making the shift to proteins like those from pereskia. As the plant-based 🌿 movement continues to grow, such a shift toward sustainability will be necessary to support consumer demand for more novel protein products.

The fact that plant-based protein comes from plants probably shouldn’t be surprising, but my mind was blown 💥 when I talked with Fern. Plant-based food news often focuses on the end product — what we eat as consumers — and not quite as much on the novel ingredients that make those products possible. It’s neat to take a peek behind the curtain and see the innovation happening in the functional 🧪 ingredient space.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing pereskia protein in plant-based foods. Would you give this cactus protein a shot? 💭

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