Motif FoodWorks Partners With UMass Amherst to Improve Formulation Processes for Plant-Based Food Proteins

Animal-free ingredients innovator and top food scientists aim to help bring new proteins to the market
Eric Decker
Eric Decker

AMHERST, Mass. – Motif FoodWorks, the animal-free ingredient innovation company, and food scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will collaborate in a research partnership to optimize the process of characterizing functional properties of food proteins.

This research on the solubility, stability, color and other properties of protein is critical to the production of successful plant-based products, says Motif, whose mission is to make plant-based food better tasting and more nutritious with animal-free ingredients and food science expertise. UMass Amherst established the nation’s first food science academic department in 1918 and remains a top-ranked, globally respected program.

Stefan Baier, head of food science at Boston-based Motif, will lead the two-year initiative with top food scientists at UMass Amherst: professor Eric Decker, head of food science; Distinguished Professor David Julian McClements, author of the new book, Future Foods: How Modern Science is Transforming the Way We Eat; and professor Hang Xiao, Clydesdale Scholar of Food Science. They are three of the most recognized experts in food science (all are highly cited scholars), with innovative research in lipid oxidation, protein functionality, structural design, natural product, chemistry, bioavailability and metabolism.

“It’s exciting to see our research being used to improve and expedite the processes behind some of the most exciting trends in the food industry,” Decker says. “Our partnership with Motif will have a real-world impact on the ability of their food scientists to innovate and bring new, viable proteins to the market.”

As companies across the food and beverage industries are looking to expand the scope and sophistication of the plant-based products they offer consumers, the processes behind these products need to evolve to ensure continued innovation and growth in the market.

Baier explains, “When it comes to protein functionality, there are certain physical and chemical attributes that are critical to the ultimate success of a plant-based product – things like solubility, or how the protein will emulsify. These characteristics become key pieces in the roadmap to ultimately formulating a protein that will perform the way you need it to.”

The majority of the functionality tests still used by food scientists are based on processes that were developed in the 1950s and rely on significant sample sizes – 50 to 100 grams – to determine whether a particular sample demonstrates desired properties. Together, UMass and Motif will work to characterize key properties of food-grade proteins at lower protein concentrations, as well as develop miniaturized versions of these test methods so that small amounts of proteins can be rapidly analyzed.

“Being able to identify these properties at smaller concentrations will help us identify promising leads earlier in the process,” Baier says.

Developing tasty, plant-based, protein-packed food is not a simple task but a multistep operation.

“We are trying to solve very complex problems for our customers – helping them to create plant-based foods that meet consumer expectations – and that work begins at the formulation level,” says Mike Leonard, Motif’s chief technology officer. “Our partnership with UMass will help make a critical part of Motif’s process more efficient, optimizing our ability to identify and scale promising protein leads and ultimately enabling us to provide better ingredients to our customers, faster.”