'We've overcome the first wave of vegan and vegetarian alternatives': Protein Distillery posits brewer’s yeast-based protein as the next stage in the market

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Brewer's yeast flakes. Image Source: Nedim_B/Getty Images
Brewer's yeast flakes. Image Source: Nedim_B/Getty Images

Related tags Yeast alternative protein Sustainability Dairy alternatives Meat alternatives

As alternative protein develops, brewer’s yeast is emerging as a strong driver of the market. Start-up ProteinDistillery has created a protein, developed from brewer’s yeast, that can not only be used for meat and dairy alternatives, but also to replace eggs in bakery products.

Using brewer’s yeast side streams from other companies, ProteinDistillery has developed a brewer’s yeast-based ingredient that could provide protein for a whole range of different products.

The company is part of a trend in alternative protein companies focusing on health as well as taste and price parity. “We aim to solve the problems of the first wave of vegan and vegetarian alternatives”, ​​Julia Schimanietz, one of ProteinDistillery’s first employees, told FoodNavigator. Previous vegetarian or vegan products, she said, have ‘not been perceived as healthy or natural by consumers’, for reasons such as supposedly high food processing, artificial food additives, and sodium content.

You can't really demand from customers to consistently choose nutrition that they feel worse off with, just because they're not hurting animals​.”

The market for vegan and vegetarian substitutes, she predicted, won’t decline, but “it’s going to be the difficulty of which technology is going to win.​​

There's going to be a lot of consolidation in the market, so you really have to stand out. That's how we're trying to differentiate by emphasizing on the health and functionality aspects​.” If you just release vegan protein, “you're not going to be competitive in the future. You have to actually do something that's going to improve people’s enjoyment of food alternatives​.”

Functional protein 

ProteinDistillery’s protein is made from brewer’s yeast, which it acquires from the side streams of other companies and turns it into a functional protein ingredient, a process currently being developed on a pilot scale.

We split open the brewer’s yeast cell and separate it into its many fractions,” ​​Schimanietz told us, “after different steps, we're left with only the clean protein and have gotten rid of flavour profiles of the brewer's yeast, the colours and all that kind of stuff, and we’re left with a fully functional, native protein”.​​

The protein can not only be used in plant-based meat and dairy products, but also as a replacement for egg in bakery products.

What was an even bigger discovery was the use for our protein for baked goods, because a lot of the baked goods that you can readily buy in supermarkets, like cake for example, always contains eggs, and you can't really get rid of it at the moment.​​

We looked at the functionality of purely the egg, which in baked goods is the foam mainly the foam formation, making the product fluffy, as well as its binding capabilities​​.”

This functionality, Schimanietz told us, is what separates the company from competitors in the plant-based food market also using brewer’s yeast. “What currently happens with general yeast but also brewer's yeast is they're upcycled to something similar in nutritional value, but it doesn't have the functional aspects​​.”

Brewer's yeast is easy to source because there are so many brewers around the world who can supply it as a side stream. Image Source: Portra/Getty Images

Side-streaming scalability ​

ProteinDistillery acquires its brewer’s yeast through side-streams, which “leads to not having any fear of supply risks because we’re not limited to brewer’s yeast in the long run. Instead, we can apply our patented upcycling technology to a variety of fermented biomass​​.”

Schimanietz also stressed the sustainability aspect of using side-streams, both getting them from other companies and ensuring that ProteinDistillery’s own side streams don’t go to waste. “And after all, our proteins have an environmental footprint that is substantially lower than other animal- and plant-based proteins in terms of CO2 emissions, land, and water usage​​.

“[There] has been a big increase in breweries wanting to make their products useful instead of making them livestock feed, burning them, or even throwing them away​​.”

Using side-streams makes the production process eminently scalable. Looking at its current source, beer is produced all over the world, so there’s little chance of ProteinDistillery running out of its core ingredient in the near future.

Production, Schimanietz told us, is “geographically independent because we're not necessarily bound to Germany or Europe. You have huge brewers in basically every country, Mexico for example. And our protein extraction can take place autonomously in any location, where side streams occur. It’s highly scalable. ​​

People start drinking less but it's not going to disappear. On top of this, like I said, we’re not limited to brewer’s yeast as our raw material.​​”

Clean label and health

ProteinDistillery’s ingredient keeps a clean label, which means it can help clients who buy its protein aim towards reducing or even eliminating additives in their own alternative protein products.

This, said Schimanietz, has many benefits. “One of them is obviously to reduce or replace those e-numbers in the ingredient lists and instead increase the end-product’s protein content and nutritional value by adding our functional protein ingredient.”

Schimanietz recalls the poor nutritional content of some vegan and vegetarian alternatives. “From a nutritional perspective, just because a product is vegetarian or vegan, it doesn’t mean that it should belong on your plate every day​,” she told us.

The additives that currently are added to some foods, our bodies mostly can't process. Even though they’re not harmful, there's no nutritional value in them, they're just there to serve the function.”

For example, methylcellulose is basically a glue to stick the protein together but it has neither proven drawbacks nor benefits for you. The more we can replace those in our foods, the better it is for the nutritional content of food alternatives.”​​

However, ProteinDistillery’s protein, said Schimanietz, stands out. “The protein that we have has a really high protein content, bioavailability and a great amino acid score​.”

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