We need a protein shift

The climate cannot handle the amount of animals we eat. There needs to be a protein shift, according to researcher Karolina Östbring who is involved in the Sustainability Week. Her vision is to create a platform for research on vegetable proteins at LU.

Karolina Östberg  Photo: Kennet Ruona

The human population is growing, while our ecological footprint needs to become much lower in order to reduce climate change and protect our natural resources. More and more people are therefore discussing the need for a change of proteins, to more vegetable protein and less meat in our diet.

“The protein shift is about how we in the West need to drive the development and switch to more vegetable protein in our diet”, says Karolina Östbring from the Department of Food Technology, Engineering and Nutrition. “The food we eat now has a very high content of animal products, such as meat and dairy. If we all would eat in the same way, our resources will not suffice as it requires so much water and energy to produce proteins by using animals.”

So what are we going to eat in the future? Insects or other sources of protein that we do not make use of today?

“Today, insects, for example, are not permitted under Swedish legislation, and I think we have ways to go before they will become widely accepted as food. I also don’t think that all consumers will start making their own been patties, for example. In order for the protein shift to have an impact, instead I believe that the industry must provide consumers with simple vegetable options. There is a huge gap in the market today. Consumers want more vegetable products, but the industry is not able to keep up with the demand for developing new options.”

Karolina Östbring says that the industry has shown a very keen interest in their project and they want to receive support from research when it comes to new innovative ideas for vegetable proteins.

“A number of food companies in southern Sweden have reached out to our project and want to be involved”, says Karolina Östbring. “Our vision for the coming years is to become a platform for research on vegetable proteins and to test different types of vegetable raw material.”

In a current research project, she and her colleagues are looking at whether rapeseed pomace can be used as raw material for various vegetable products. They are collaborating with Gunnarshögs gård in Österlen who make cold-pressed rapeseed oil.

“We have developed a process in which we can purify proteins, and are currently testing whether this can be made into some form of mince product. It could serve as a meat substitute, although I think it’s a poor description as the vegetables are there in their own capacity”, says Karolina Östbring.

There are still things that need to be solved before it can become a finished product on the market. For example, certain unwanted substances in the rapeseed must be removed, but the researchers are optimistic as new and less expensive purification technology is available on the market.

– The amount of protein that Gunnarshögs gård alone produces in the form of pomace from its rapeseed oil production in one year is equivalent to the amount of protein found in 25 per cent of the annual production of Mamma Scan’s meatballs. And the rapeseed protein only costs a fraction compared to meat. Here, there are enormous opportunities!”

NINA NORDH

Sustainability Week in Lund on 15–20 May!

Come and be inspired on the theme of sustainability. During the week you can take part in free lectures, workshops and debates which provide an opportunity for discussion on challenges and solutions for a sustainable world. The Sustainability Week ends with a sustainability festival. The event is part of Lund University’s 350th anniversary celebration, and one of five science weeks during the jubilee year.

See the programme and register via www.hallbarhet.lu.se

Read more about Karolina Östbring and her colleagues’ research in the article: Från djurfoder till en proteinrik fruktostprodukt (in Swedish)

Read more about the research at the Department of Food Technology, Engineering and Nutrition