Plant protein gel from algae or sugar beet foliage @Food Valley Expo 2015

Published: 24-09-2015

At the Food Valley Expo 2015 TNO presented algae in a cookie and a quiche prepared with protein from beet leafs. TNO developed a technology to extract non-allergenic protein from algae and from previously worthless waste stream sugar beet foliage.

“Algae aren’t just a superfood. They have much wider potential,” says Corjan van den Berg from TNO research institute. “The real potential lies in the products you can create by refining algae. Algae contain proteins, omega fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber and minerals. We’re focusing on proteins right now. We’ve managed to extract these from the algae by mechanically crushing the cells in a ball mill, a technology we borrowed from the paint industry. The rubisco protein we extracted from chloroplasts in this way looks particularly promising.”

Rubisco turns out to have excellent gelling properties. Van den Berg explains: “A gel formed by this plant-based protein is three times stronger than one formed by egg whites. It outperforms other plant proteins like soya or lupin protein. I can think of dozens of applications, such as a binding agent in vegetarian burgers or in various bakery products.”

Looking for partners
Algae are not the only source TNO is exploring for rubisco. Sugar beet foliage is another possible source. “The Netherlands grows acres and acres of beets, so there is plenty of supply,” says Van den Berg. “The foliage is a waste stream from the sugar industry. Its availability makes it even more promising than algae. Algae production is still small-scale which makes it relatively expensive. That’s why we’re interested in existing, large-scale waste streams.”

TNO’s next step will be to try and purify the rubisco protein, to create a white plant protein. Van den Berg says TNO is looking for new business partners for this part of the development process.