Canola ice cream, anyone?
Purified canola proteins have superior properties for processed human foods, says Martin Schweizer of Burcon Nutriscience, even outperforming current ingredients such as egg white and whey.
“It’s comparable to soy and animal proteins,” he says of one of his company’s products, Nutratein.
“It’s very digestible — you could add it to your morning smoothie or use it to improve other products, to fortify nut milks or non-dairy ice cream to fluff it up.”
Schweizer was one of an array of speakers putting forth their innovations for food and feed using canola to about 300 research and industry professionals at the Canola Industry Meeting and Innovation Day organized by Ag-West Bio in Saskatoon earlier this month. The event also shared the latest in crop production and crop protection research as well as the world outlook.
Most of canola’s value comes from its oil, which makes up about 45 percent of its seed. The leftover meal is about 25 percent protein with the balance made up of cellulose, lignin and other low-value components. Most canola meal ends up in livestock rations.
It’s that 25 percent protein fraction that has long intrigued researchers and companies looking to add value to the crop.
Schweizer said that on the pro side, canola protein has excellent qualities, offering all the essential amino acids. Cysteine, for example, is twice as abundant than in whey protein.
As for cons, he says the canola plant has developed an arsenal of bitter chemicals to protect it from being eaten, all of which must be separated from the protein before it can be used in food products.
This has required extensive research into new processing technologies. For example, Burcon has developed processes to produce several protein products from cold-pressed canola meal.
The prize is a big one. Several presenters pointed out that consumers in developed countries are increasingly looking for plant-based proteins, while hundreds of millions worldwide are achieving middle-class status and demanding more protein in their diets. Demographics are also driving demand as aging consumers require more protein in their diets to stay healthy.
Even the word has become fashionable. Consumer research shows that adding “protein” to a label boosts sales. Canola protein could find its way into everything from eggless salad dressing and mayonnaise to veggie burgers, fortified bread, cookies, meal replacement beverages and, of course, protein bars.
Western Canada is well-positioned to help satisfy this growing global appetite for plant-based protein, but only if it dramatically increases its efforts to innovate, says Bill Greuel, chief executive officer of Protein Industries Canada. One of the five new federal Innovation Superclusters.
“Everybody knows that if you’re flat in R & D spending in agriculture, you’re going backward,” Greuel says.
He cites figures that show this country’s research spending has been flat for at least 10 years. Canada would have to double its spending to keep pace with competitors among countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. PIC aims to help remedy this, backed by $150 million in federal funding over five years to be matched by industry partners.
Those potential partners are working at adding value through everything from genetics to advanced processing.
For example, Australian-based Nuseed is developing canola with production traits such as blackleg and clubroot resistance in its Canadian operations, but is also developing new varieties to serve growing opportunities such as aquaculture.
Van Ripley, Nuseed’s canola development lead in North America, said aquaculture requires feed high in omega-3 fatty acids. Currently, this means converting lower-value fish such as Argentine anchovies into feed pellets for farmed fish such as salmon and trout, which is an approach that cannot support the rapid growth of the aquaculture industry worldwide.
Australian government scientists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization sourced genes from wild marine algae to produce genetically modified canola with high omega-3 content. Nuseed is currently working to get the necessary regulatory approvals in the United States, Canada and other countries to bring it to market.
Aquaculture is also one of the targets of Calgary-based Botanica, which is focusing its efforts on canola seed with a proprietary process that produces higher-value products than simply crushing for oil and meal.
“Canola has a great profile,” says company president James Szarko.
“The manufacturing process has been the hurdle, to produce reliably and in quantity. This year, we cracked the code to get a protein that aquaculture can use.”
Szarko said Botanico’s approach is to preserve not just the content but the form of the canola seed to retain value. For example, one of its processes separates oleosomes, which are microscopic capsules where canola oil is stored in the seed. These oleosomes have unique and valuable properties, making them ideal for use in cosmetics and products such as sunscreen.
“We get a lot of value out of taking what nature has made and putting it into personal care products,” Szarko says.
The company has opened an office in New Jersey to serve this market, he added.