Innovative technology turns rapeseed to food grade level ingredient
There has never been a product like this in the global food market: The BlackGrain from yellow fields™ is first of its kind. To create something so innovative, the team at Avena Nordic Grain decided to go against the grain and take a new perspective to how plant proteins and ingredients are produced.
Demand for plant-based ingredients and products is skyrocketing. So is the need for finding new sources of plant protein, says Avena Nordic Grain R&D Manager Kaisu Riihinen.
— Having variety in the crops we use for plant protein is important. From a Finnish perspective, it is important to find crops that can be grown here to ensure food independence. Cultivating innovation and expertise in Finland is also key to gaining a sturdy foothold of the global food market, Riihinen says.
It is easy to understand why she and her team are so enthusiastic about their new creation, which ticks all the boxes of innovation, sustainability, and local production.
It all started with the potential of Finnish rapeseed
Avena Nordic Grain and Riihinen saw that rapeseed had all the potential to challenge other plant proteins, such as soy. Until now, it has not been consumed to a significant degree in human diets except as rapeseed oil, known for its health benefits.
According to Riihinen, cultivating rapeseed requires skill and experience — the kind Finnish farmers have, thanks to our long history with the plant.
— With rapeseed, it is critical to know how to cultivate it correctly. Sustainable plant protection secures healthy crop and good quality yield. Harvesting is a critical point in rapeseed cultivation, too. The silicles of the plant need to mature and ripen enough to be ready for harvesting. If they are harvested too early, they will contain too much chlorophyll. Rapeseed cultivation practises require true expertise from the farmers, explains Riihinen.
To ensure they are always working with the best ingredient, Avena Nordic Grain has strict quality criteria in place. The company makes sure their farmers sow good quality seeds and see that their farmers use fertilizers and pesticides according to law.
A new perspective to plant proteins turns into a simple solution
When the rapeseed is brought from field to the factory, it goes through initial processing phases such as drying. After this, the magic starts to happen: the raw ingredient begins its journey to become a food-grade ingredient and finally a consumer product.
— This is not a complicated technology solution, but the road to discovering it was long and winding. First, we tried to come up with a rapeseed concentrate and figure out how to eliminate fat residue to separate the proteins cost-efficiently. It was very challenging, says Riihinen.
Finally, the team decided to take a step back, and look at the problem from a new angle. Riihinen explains that concentrates have long been the mainstream way to create plant proteins. But she and her team began to think: Why go with the flow?
— Everyone else was focused on creating a rapeseed-isolate to maximise the protein content, but why go that route when there is also fibre in rapeseed which is beneficial for human consumption? Why not make things simple, and only add the processing phases that are required to make rapeseed suitable for human diets? recounts Riihinen.
That is exactly what she and her team did.
The most important innovation Riihinen’s team came up with was to combine two processing phases: extraction and enzymatic treatment. This way, the team was able to preserve the proteins in the ingredient. They have now patented the innovative approach.
The test kitchen is a proving ground for the new ingredient
A key step in bringing a new ingredient to market is making sure it will be easy to use in food production. The test kitchen is where different basic recipes are created and tested to see what kinds of amounts of BlackGrain make for best consistency, colour, and flavour, for example.
Testing and developing recipes and the usability of the ingredient are an important part of applying for Novel Food approval, but also for commercialising the product. When developing an ingredient intended for use in mass production of food, there are many details to consider. The consistency needs to be just right: it should not stick together and needs to mix easily, for example. For this reason, Avena Nordic Grain prefers to work closely with customers developing their own products.
— It is important for us to test and know how the ingredient behaves in different applications, so we can help our customers in how to best use it in their own recipes and products. Usability is important, and our customers are the final judges of what is optimal for them, says Riihinen.
Consumer health is taken seriously all the way from field to dinner table
Since BlackGrain is a completely new ingredient, the team at Avena Nordic Grain has done extensive tests and research to ensure consumer safety. Two key factors are maintaining the nutritional balance and taking into consideration the allergenicity of protein.
— We found out that rapeseed protein has allergenic potential, since the related protein in mustard is an allergen. As a result, people allergic to mustard can have a reaction to rapeseed. This was already declared to Novel Food authorized Rapeseed protein. As a result, we instruct our customers to include this information in their packaging information, says Riihinen.
The nutritional content of BlackGrain has also been under scrutiny. BlackGrain contains all necessary amino acids, which means no additional plant proteins are needed to meet nutritional requirements. It also contains a bit more fibre than other similar sources — which is only a good thing! Since rapeseed fibre has not previously been used in human diets, the team studied its safety and tolerability in a human intervention study which was designed to produce statistically significant results.
—We wanted to find out more about how the fibre in rapeseed affects test-subjects who ate the protein bars used in the test, says Riihinen, who is a PhD herself and has previous experience in food legislation and regulation.
Thanks to the team’s attention to detail, innovative BlackGrain is now ready for use in food products and headed for dinner tables all around the world.