A study highlights a “promising” method of combining milk and vegetable proteins in dairy applications

“The objective of this study was to create a stable colloidal dispersion of casein micelles (CM) with pea protein (PP) to improve the solubility of PP in aqueous solution”,explained scientists from the Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University, who recently published their report in the Journal of Dairy Science. The project was funded by the Parker Endowment (Department of Food Science and Technology, The Ohio State University, Columbus).

The results detailed a new method of supplementing cow’s milk with vegetable proteins (pea proteins) by encapsulating pea proteins in CM molecules.

Pea protein was chosen by researchers because of its balanced branched-chain amino acid structure and non-allergenic properties.

Unlike previous research studies, the researchers used readily available dairy processing equipment that could be easily replicated in any dairy facility.

“As the dairy industry strives to keep consumers ‘attention amid declining fluid milk sales, demand for plant-based protein is increasing due to consumers’ desire for healthy, high-protein products that are also environmentally conscious. This research combines these objectives. and offers potential for innovation with other plant proteins or low solubility nutraceuticals, enabling the dairy industry to deliver new, highly nutritious products that also meet evolving consumer preferences ”,wrote researchers.

Successful blend of casein and pea protein

The concept of a hybrid dairy product based on milk and vegetable protein is not new, however. Dairy Farmers of America launched its Live Real Farms Dairy + milk blends (using cow’s milk and oat and almond milk) in 2019, but according to their website, it has since discontinued the product line.

“Proteins of plant origin, such as those from peas, can be difficult to use in foods because of their low solubility and unwanted bad tastes. Pea protein, in particular, can be a challenge to use in food systems due to its low solubility and unwanted bitterness ”,noted Rafael Jiménez-Flores, PhD, principal investigator of the study.

Casein, the protein found in cow’s milk, naturally binds to form large, spherical molecules suspended in the water component of milk that carry most of the nutrients, the study researchers explained.

One end of the casein protein is attracted to water (hydrophilic) and the other is repelled by it (hydrophobic). When the proteins come together, the outside of the resulting large molecule, called the casein micelle, is made up of the end of the protein attracted to water, while the core of the casein micelle is the water repellent side. This structure allows the casein micelles to carry most of the vitamins and minerals, such as calcium.

“Our research team used these unique characteristics of casein micelles to transform them into additional protein transporters from a plant source, in this case peas,”Said first author Abigail Krentz, MS.

In order to transform the casein micelles into transporters of additional nutrients, the micelle had to be opened, the nutrients incorporated, and the micellar structure reassembled. Previous research has accomplished this using ultra-high pressure and other specialized techniques, but this study obtained its results using readily available dairy processing equipment that could be easily replicated in any dairy facility, note Researchers.

The resulting CM: PP blend has shown promising results for the use of mixed protein, functional food products in the form of liquid, gel or powder applications.

“These results supported our hypothesis that low temperature homogenization can be used successfully to create a colloidal dispersion with increased stability, in which insoluble plant proteins can be incorporated with casein micelles in aqueous solution”,Krentz added.

“Future experiments should focus on the amount of PP that associates within the CM, the nature of these associations, and sensory analysis.”

Source: Journal of Dairy Science

10.3168 / jds.2021-20902

Use of casein micelles to improve the solubility of hydrophobic pea proteins in aqueous solutions via low temperature homogenization

Authors: Abigail Krentz, et al.

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