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Innovative pea protein project aims to break soya habit

June 1, 2023

A £1 million (US$1.24 million) Innovate UK project that aims to have a significant impact on reducing the need for UK imports of soya has been announced.

The ‘Pea Protein’ project is a collaboration between Germinal, a grass and forage seed specialists, and seed breeders, using a discovery made by John Innes Centre scientists 30 years ago.

The gene for flavorless peas was first identified in the 1990s by scientists including Professor Claire Domoney, however the research was stopped. At the time there was no use for it, now it could be the basis of a new industry.

“The world has changed," said Professor Claire Domoney. "People increasingly want plant-based protein in their diets rather than from animals. So flavorless peas have suddenly become flavor of the day.”

The UK imports approximately four million tons of soya every year, which is used for human and animal feeds, with half a million ton used for vegan and vegetarian foods, according to Innovate UK.

Germinal’s climate smart approach is to produce a reliable UK grown protein source that can replace soya in human foods, and they believe pea protein can be the solution. Peas are suited to the UK climate, are environmentally friendly, boost soil health by fixing free nitrogen from the air and even leave some in the ground for the next crop.

Germinal Horizon, the company’s Research & Innovation division will collaborate with the John Innes Centre, IBERS and PGRO to deliver the project. The project is targeting three important challenges: the urgent need to replace soy with UK protein crops; meeting market demand for taste and functionality; and growing a soya protein alternative sustainably.

“Finding a sustainable alternative to soya is a priority for the food industry," added Paul Billings, Managing Director of Germinal UK & Ireland. "Protein crops such as peas are ideal for the UK climate but one of our challenges is their flavor profile in human food.  Pea flavors are undesirable for consumers in processed food, so the goal is to produce peas that are tasteless but retain nutritional value. The gene for flavorless peas was first identified in the 1990s by scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

This exciting breeding program will use innovative research in pea genetics to develop new varieties without the traditionally associated problems. This funding continues to drive our innovation journey alongside award-winning Aber High Sugar grasses that can reduce emissions from ruminant grazing animals and a world first hybrid clover that is resilient and resource efficient”.

The program is funded in part by Defra via Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of the Farming Innovation Pathway. As well as delivering environmental sustainability, the project will provide new economic opportunities for farmers to replace soya with a home grown alternative.

Robust testing at farm level will ensure that only the varieties that meet market demands and the agronomic requirements of UK farmers will be commercially progressed. The project will be a positive step forward in the drive to find tailored solutions for the food industry that consider both the climate and consumer.

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

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