Scientific paper – Food proteins from animals and plants


As part of the Smart Protein project, researchers from AgResearch recently published a paper on the differences in the nutritional and functional properties of food proteins from animals and plants. In the paper, they survey some of the nutritional and technological functionality data for animal- and plant-derived food proteins and discuss the nature and implications of the differences between them.

Plants and animals are the main sources of dietary proteins for humans, and there are important differences in the type of protein that they supply. These differences include molecular structure, amino-acid profile, digestibility, and technical functionality in food (e.g. the ability to gel, emulsify, bind with water, etc). These inherent differences influence their bioavailability to the human body, as well as the sensory qualities of the final food items.

The paper aims to provide up-to-date scientific information on protein from major animal and plant sources, with a focus on the differences in their nutritional and functional properties. This knowledge will facilitate the exploration of emerging protein sources as well as an overall improvement in the nutritional and technological functionality of protein for all stages of human life.

Summary and key findings

  • Plant-based foods typically provide less complete protein nutrition because of lower digestibility and source-specific deficiencies in essential amino acids, compared with animal proteins.
  • Plant proteins can be subjected to various processes to bring their functionality closer to that of animal proteins (e.g. hydrolysis to improve solubility), but some processes that improve functionality also diminish amino-acid bioaccessibility or bioactivity, creating negative nutritional consequences.
  • Although plant proteins offer different nutritional values compared to animal proteins due to their unbalanced amino acid composition, they still provide a good protein source for humans and can contribute to a balanced diet.
  • More research and innovation are required to enhance the potential of plant proteins.
  • The inherent structural differences between animal and plant proteins hamper direct substitution in many products, and have a major impact on sensory properties. However, by discovering more about the characteristics of all types of proteins, modifying their attributes through processing, and maximising their function, we have the capability to design increasingly innovative plant-protein solutions that are acceptable to the consumer.

Access the paper here.