Nonprofit organization Natural Products Canada (NPC) is contributing $78,430 to support a novel plant-based gelatin project that could disrupt the gelatin market with a substitute for the growing vegan and halal demand.
In 2022, Dr. Lingyun Chen and her team at the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta found a process to create a plant-based gelatin substitute from pea protein.
Described as a “powerful” alternative, the novel gelatin changes easily from liquid to gel state and vice versa — a feature that could optimize industrial applications. Additionally, it contains more proteins than existing plant-based substitutes. The product is patent pending.
Huge market for plant-based gelatin
The project aims to evaluate how this new pea-protein-based gelatin performs in real food applications such as gummy bears or plant-based yogurt and prove its ability to scale from the lab to commercialization.
“There is a huge global market for a plant-based gelatin substitute right now. We have more and more vegans and vegetarians who want an alternative. The growing Muslim population need Halal options [sic], and there’s also increased interest in plant-based food as part of a more sustainable food system,” Dr. Lingyun Chen told NPC.
Vegan gelatin relies on pectin, an acid mainly extracted from apple and citrus fruit peels. But according to manufacturers, the texture and elasticity of gelatin made from cows, pigs, and fish are hard to replicate.
In efforts to make better alternatives, companies like natural gum expert Alland & Robert has developed vegan gelatin made from plant-based hydrocolloids and gum acacia that has the properties of both pectin and gelatin. Leveraging cellular agriculture, US biotech startup Jellatech develops cell-based collagen and gelatin for cosmetics, medical and pharmaceutical, and F&B products.
Since gelatins are also used in drug capsules, Roquette has created a pea-based softgel solution from pea starch, carrageenan, and sorbitol to produce vegan-friendly medications and supplements.
Peas from Canada
Manufacturing the “powerful” gelatin substitute could boost the local economy and even help push the price of Canadian pea protein globally. Dr. Chen is working with a multinational leader in plant-based ingredients to use peas grown in Canada as the raw material to develop the new gelatin, explains NPC.
Last June, the non-profit organization, which focuses on Canadian natural product innovations, announced over CAD$ one million in grants to ten Canadian companies creating bio-based innovations, including saving bee colonies, upcycling industrial waste to plant-based salmon, natural food additives, and non-toxic cleaning supplies.
“This funding opportunity can help us bridge from the lab into commercialization – benefiting Canada, contributing to sustainable agriculture, and providing a nutritious alternative for people around the world.”