Is Hemp Protein An Overlooked Sector Of The Industry?
Protein consumption is one of the most important parts of the human diet. It is a nutrient that all humans need to grow and repair cells, particularly cells in muscles and bones. Daily protein consumption is necessary for humans to perform life functions properly.
When some people think of protein, they probably get visions of bodybuilders and powder mixes, or huge slabs of meat. However, as previously stated, all humans need protein in their diets, not just athletes who are trying to increase their muscle mass, and protein can be found in many different foods.
Protein is comprised of various amino acids, with amino acids often being referred to as ‘the building blocks of life.’ There are roughly 20 different amino acids, 11 of which human bodies create naturally. Those are referred to as ‘non-essential amino acids.’ Nine other amino acids cannot be made by the human body, and are referred to as ‘essential amino acids.’
Meat, while not the only source of protein on earth, is the most popular choice in many parts of the world. Plant-based proteins are becoming more popular for various reasons, which is a good thing from a sustainability standpoint.
Large-scale livestock operations, which is where much of the world’s meat comes from, collectively produce a significant carbon footprint. Whereas farming operations that produce plant-based proteins have a lower carbon footprint.
In recent years, as more humans have transitioned away from meat protein sources to plant-based ones, researchers have tried to figure out which plants are the best for producing protein, both from an output standpoint and a sustainability standpoint.
Soy is a popular plant-based protein, as are peas. Beans, nuts, and whole grains are other non-meat-based proteins that are commonly incorporated into human diets and protein products. But one plant, the hemp plant, may prove to be the best protein source of them all one day.
Hemp seed as a protein source for humans is not a new phenomenon, with evidence of its use for nourishment purposes going back at least 3,000 years. Although, the push to ‘optimize’ hemp seed and research how to get the most out of it is still a relatively new thing.
Popular plant-based proteins were never prohibited like hemp was, and in some areas, hemp is still prohibited. Prohibition has greatly hindered hemp research compared to other crops, including from a cultivar standpoint, as well as protein solubility.
Last year researchers associated with Cornell University in the United States analyzed multiple hemp cultivars to see which one possessed the best traits for various measurables.
“Hemp seed protein isolates (HPI) were extracted from seven commercial hemp cultivars, a Cornell breeding line, and a commercial hemp heart product, and their composition and functional properties were investigated. HPI contained different ratios of edestin, vicilin, and albumin proteins, which affected protein solubility and functionality.” the researchers stated.
“Higher protein solubility was associated with cultivars that contained more vicilin and albumin, which influenced the subsequent functional properties of HPI. Significant differences in water holding capacity (0.83-1.05 g water/g protein isolate), oil holding capacity (1.28-1.81 g oil/g protein isolate), foam capacity (52.9%-84.9%), and foam stability (68.1%-89.4%) were observed across HPI.” the researchers also stated.
“The relationship identified between hemp seed protein composition and functionality, in conjunction with the demonstration of an on-going hemp breeding line, suggest that continued, targeted development of hemp cultivars can improve its seed protein functional properties for ingredient utilization in plant-based foods.” the researchers concluded.
Hemp seed protein is very versatile from a product development standpoint, as many things can be created with hemp protein as a key ingredient, including butter, milk, powders, and breads. With demand for organic, plant-based proteins increasing, and hemp seed research also increasing, the future is bright.
It’s quite likely that hemp seed protein will supplant other popular protein sources someday, especially when considering the sustainability concerns associated with various crops and livestock operations that do not apply to the hemp plant.