Attendees of the Institute of Food Technologists’ SHIFT20 conference had the first peek at the results of a new study comparing resource requirements to produce various protein sources. I’m now sharing this exciting information with Dairy Detective readers.

The new study, conducted by RTI Innovation Advisors and funded by the National Dairy Council, sheds scientific light on how dairy proteins compare to plant and other protein sources when it comes to degree of processing and impact on environmental resources.

This is especially critical at a time when sustainable food production is paramount to addressing the challenge of providing valuable nutrition to the growing global population. The study compared the current commercial processing methods for four dairy proteins and 13 alternative protein ingredients — starting from post-harvest through processing of the finished dry protein powder.

The survey found that commercial processing of mainstream and emerging protein ingredients involves a variety of processing steps and techniques that vary based on source material, processing method and end product produced. In general, the number of processing steps increases with rising protein content of the final ingredient, whether concentrate or isolate.


Protein processing

Processing of protein ingredients also differs in usage of processing aids beyond water. The processing of some plant-based protein concentrates and isolates such as soy, potato, canola, pea and almond may require the use of processing aids such as solvents, salts, acids, caustic agents and bases to extract and purify the protein. However, the processing of dairy proteins uses primarily physical (not chemical) separation and, unlike that for many plant proteins, does not require the use of processing aids, making dairy proteins clean-label-friendly.

During protein isolation, nonprotein co-products are produced and must be utilized or disposed. Co-products of dairy protein processing are versatile and tend to find more value-added uses in food applications than those of plant protein processing, giving co-products of dairy protein processing a role in sustainable food formulations and the reduction of food waste.

According to data from Innova Market Insights, high-protein food launches are on the rise globally. Protein ingredients play an integral role in formulating food products by providing nutrition, taste and functionality, which are all key to a great consumer experience. Selecting the right protein ingredient can also affect sustainability.

Visit to access the research brief discussed above.