Prof. Dr Elke Arendt, Professor of cereal and beverage science at the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University College Cork, is leading the Smart Protein project work on protein functionality. Learn more about her cutting-edge work in this interview.
What is the role of your organisation within the Smart Protein Project?
Elke Arendt: Besides coordinating this innovative EU project, our research team investigates the physicochemical and rheological behaviours of selected protein sources in model and complex food systems. [Rheology is the science of deformation of material]. Understanding protein-protein interactions and protein functionalisation through green-based biotechnology (i.e. tailored fermentation and enzymatic processes) is one of our key goals, along with the development and industrial validation of plant-based protein-rich prototypes of milk and yoghurt alternatives.
Why did you decide to join the Smart Protein project?
Elke Arendt: Alternative protein sources are urgently needed to respond to the increasing protein demand from a growing world population and the need for more resource-efficient production. Global food production is the largest cause of damage to the earth’s equilibrium, threatening local ecosystems and the stability of the earth’s planetary system. Therefore, providing a growing global population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge. At University College Cork (UCC), we believe that we have the critical expertise that will allow us to decode the unique techno-functional architecture of the target proteins and predict the optimal food-and-beverage applications for each protein source
What benefits will this project bring to your organisation and to Europe and European citizens in general?
Elke Arendt: Leading this exciting Horizon2020 project allows our team to bring together interdisciplinary researchers and industry partners in order to deliver new, nutritious, and functional alternative-protein ingredients and products to the supply chain, working all the way from breeding and genetics to processing, formulation, and marketing. UCC is addressing this industry-identified alternative-protein challenge and exploring opportunities to develop a wealth of interdisciplinary research.
What are the main challenges faced in the process?
Elke Arendt: The main challenges are to make nutritious, safe, and climate-friendly food the easy, affordable, and preferred choice for consumer-citizens. As such, key goals are: (i) determining the impact of novel plant proteins on the nutrition, physiology, flavour, appearance, and textural properties of food products; (ii) identifying ways to mitigate off-flavours while maintaining textural properties; (iii) functionalise novel proteins and determine their impact on flavour, functionality, and nutrition; and (iv) identifying unique functionality and applications for alternative proteins in comparison to animal-based protein ingredients.
What results from the project are you and your team most excited for?
Elke Arendt: Working with new protein sources, expanding our knowledge of their application in food and beverages, and supporting their validation through industry-validated food prototypes – all of these areas excite us! But above all, it will be fascinating to generate the critical scientific knowledge that will allow us to develop behavioural models that predict protein functionality in complex food and beverage systems.
Prof. Dr Elke Arendt has been a senior lecturer in the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University College Cork, since 1993. She lectures and conducts research in the area of cereals, malting, and brewing science, specifically focusing on gluten-free foods and beverages, starter cultures, functional beverages, rheology, and food structure.
To date, Arendt’s research programme at UCC has resulted in over 300 peer-reviewed research papers, three books, 35 book chapters, and approximately 600 additional published articles and abstracts.