Have you ever wondered what is the difference between animal and plant proteins? Do you have any ideas of how plant proteins found in various products are extracted? Do you really know what the terms "soy isolate" or "rice protein" mean? What are the advantages of insects over plant protein? Through this article we will answer all these questions!
Plant proteins ?
Both plant and animal proteins are made from a combination of amino acids. As previously mentioned in the article about protein, a protein can be considered as complete when it possesses in an adequate quantity all 9 of the essential amino acids that our body cannot synthesize. While animal proteins are always complete, it is not the case for all plant proteins.
Legumes and cereals proteins
Most of the legumes and cereals are sources of incomplete protein: some of the essential amino acids are not present in adequate quantities.
Legumes, such as lentils, tend to have a relatively low concentration in 2 essential amino acids. Cereals, on the other hand, contain usually only 8 of the 9 essential amino acids in adequate amount. In fact, they are often poor in lysine but rich in methionine and cysteine, the two essential amino acids frequently lacking legumes. Thus, a diet mixing cereals and legumes throughout the day is often recommended for vegetarian to obtain all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities.
Complete plant proteins
Nevertheless, some plant proteins are complete, such as the ones found in soya, quinoa, chia seeds as well as flax seeds. We will be from now on focusing on tofu (made from soya) and quinoa, as the latter are considered as excellent sources of complete plant protein in our diet.
Tofu and quinoa proteins
Tofu, made from unfermented soy curd, is one of the most important products derived from soy protein. Different types of tofu can be found, whose texture and taste vary according to the method of manufacture.
Quinoa, on the other hand, is a pseudo-cereal native of South America which grew in popularity during the last few years.The term “pseudo-cereal” means that it is a seed that does not belong to the grass family and thus is not containing gluten, while looking like a cereal. (Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in grains from the grass family that give wheat dough its elastic texture).
Tofu and quinoa versus cricket powder proteins
Let's now compare the proteins contained in the two plant-based food products mentioned above, tofu and quinoa, with cricket powder.
They are three different sources of complete proteins. However, cricket powder has a much higher protein content than the two others: 60% against approximately 5%.
Thus, cricket powder possesses approximately 10 times more protein than tofu and quinoa, on the same weight basis.
The latter is therefore considerably superior in terms of supply of essential amino acids, as can be seen in the graph below.
Graph 1: Essential amino acids content comparison between 100g of cricket powder, quinoa and tofu
Plant protein isolates
Byproducts of plant protein are widely used to improve nutritional values of certain foods, such as energy bars. Isolates or concentrates made of soy, hemp or rice proteins are popular in the food industry to increase protein content of products. If at first glance, a food product seems “natural” because it only contains plant proteins; it is important to note that a transformation process is necessary in order to isolate and extract the proteins from its source.
For example, to obtain soy protein isolate, it is necessary to separate the proteins from the other components also contained in the bean. For this purpose, the oil is first extracted by crushing soybeans through rollers along with a food-grade solvent, forming flakes. The latter are then conveyed through a system of heating to remove the solvent from the materials. Finally, the defatted flakes obtained can be milled into flour or further processed to create soy protein concentrate or isolate following the process below:
The final product is a powder containing on average 90% of proteins and widely used in the food industry.
Thus, although the proteins are from a natural origin, they undergo a transformation process to concentrate them, before being added to the food products. When we start speaking about transformation, the notion of natural become rather abstract.
Crickets on the other hand, naturally possess a high protein content and can thus be directly added to various food product to increase their protein content.
They do not need to undergo various complex transformations as one can observe on the graph below:
And what about the Naak bars ?
Most of the Naak bar proteins come from a complete, natural and eco-friendly source: crickets. So, why not give a try to insect proteins with a Naak bar?