03.02.2017 change 03.02.2017

More protein from plants for Europe

Quinoa, amaranth, chickpeas are an excellent sources of vegetable protein, still underestimated in Europe. Consumption of animal protein still dominates on the Old Continent. Scientists want to change this by increasing European plant protein production by 25 percent.

According to estimates, in the next 35 years the world population will increase by 35 percent. Such a population increase requires not only more efficient food production, which will satisfy the needs of the growing population. It is vitally important to produce food that is safe, low cost, of high nutritional value. In the twenty-first century, the challenge for agriculture is to use agrotechnology that does not harm our planet. One way to solve this problem may focusing on vegetable protein rather than animal protein.

Despite the growing fashion for vegetarianism, production of proteins of animal origin still dominates in Europe, and as much as about 70 percent proteins of plant origin are imported. Scientists in the international project "Protein2Food" want to change this situation. "The overall objective of the project is to provide a source of protein for a growing human population" - told PAP Prof. Ryszard Amarowicz from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn - the only Polish institutions involved in the project.

Thanks to the work of scientists, the use of new and improved farming and yield management methods, European production of vegetable protein is expected to grow by 25 percent. The European acreage protein-rich plants is expected to increase by about 10 percent.

Scientists focus on plants that are rich in protein or provide protein of high nutritional value, such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, lupine, broad beans, chickpeas and lentils. They meet the above criterion, and their share in the diet of Europeans unfortunately remains negligible.

"Amaranth and quinoa, grown primary in South America, are not very popular in Europe. One of the tasks of the researchers involved in the project is to provide them with adequate agricultural conditions so that they produce high yield also here. They will be cultivated in Italy and Denmark" - explained Prof. Amarowicz.

Legumes (lentils, chickpeas) and buckwheat are grown on the Old Continent but not used on a large scale for the production of proteins. Soybeans are dominant here. "In a sense, we would like to become at least partially independent from soy and diversify agricultural production" - noted the researcher.

From legumes and "pseudo-cereals" scientists will obtain protein-rich formulations that can be added to food products. For example, amaranth will be added to baby food.

First, German researchers will extract proteins from leguminous plants; researchers from Ireland and Sweden will introduce them to specific products suitable for consumption, for example biscuit or supplements. Scientists from Olsztyn will evaluate the final product containing proteins isolated from plants in terms of taste and smell.

"We will also participate in the chemical analysis of biologically active compounds in these foods, for example natural antioxidants or oligosaccharides. We will examine how agricultural practices and climatic conditions (temperature, drought) affect the content of these compounds in plants" - said Prof.. Amarowicz. "At the end we will test in rats the nutritious values of vegetable protein, originating from the selected protein preparations" - he added.

The project involves 19 institutions from 13 countries, including Uganda and Peru. The Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research has received a grant of more than one million zlotys (over 233 thousand euros) from the programme Horizon 2020. The research project began in 2015, and its completion is planned for 2020. The coordinator of an international consortium is the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Ewelina Krajczyńska

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