Protein-Fortified Beverages
By Joanna Cosgrove
Satisfying the demand for good taste and nutritional value
Last year’s Atkins boom may have put a vise grip on the sales of some carbohydrate-laden beverages, but one of the lasting upshots is that consumers have become more knowledgeable about protein and its role in a healthy diet. This new understanding has had a profound effect, stimulating consumer interest and demand for healthier beverages that are fortified with protein.
The two most popular beverage proteins are whey and soy, and their various isolate derivatives. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, eating foods rich with soy can reduce cholesterol; enhance athletic performance, and even aid in the battle against diabetes and kidney disease. Whey protein is well known in the realms of sports nutrition, weight management, immune system support and bone health.
There also has been a recent upswing in market interest for soy protein due to elevated milk protein prices and supply issues that some manufacturers are experiencing relative to this commodity. In such cases, soy proteins can successfully replace milk proteins, either partially or totally, depending on the system, while maintaining consumer acceptance of the end product and offering cost savings opportunities.
Some of the most popular protein beverages are of the yogurt and smoothie variety, although many companies are currently experimenting with other beverage formats in which to incorporate protein.  
In the realm of finished products, PowerBar, Berkeley, Calif., recently expanded its Pria women’s nutrition product line to include a Complete Nutrition Shake designed to be consumed any time of day as a nutritious and satisfying meal replacement or snack option. The 170-calorie drink, created specifically with women’s nutritional needs in mind, provides a blend of carbohydrates, protein and 21 vitamins and minerals, including 28 percent of the recommended daily value of fiber and 50 percent of the recommended daily value of calcium, and is free of trans-fats and artificial flavorings.
The shakes are sold in packs of four 11-fluid-ounce servings and are available in two flavors — Creamy Milk Chocolate and French Vanilla.
SoyBlendz from Carbotrol Foods, Glenview, Ill., is a blend of exotic fruits, juices and whole soy. The company says SoyBlendz is unique in using only whole soybeans to capture all of soy’s nutritional benefits, which are reported to help reduce the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer and heart disease.
“We use only the ripest fruits, natural fruit juices, and whole soybeans to give SoyBlendz a ‘straight from the orchard’ taste,” says SoyBlendz President Gregory Lojkutz. “Our lactose-free smoothies are unbelievably sweet and fruity, yet they contain no artificial flavorings, sweeteners or preservatives.”
SoyBlendz fruit and soy protein smoothies are available in 10-ounce bottles in four flavors: Mixed Berry Medley, Mango/Orange Dream, Orange Citrus Splash and Strawberry/Banana Blast.
Formulating with protein
Despite protein’s documented health benefits, the act of incorporating protein into a beverage usually presents an array of challenges. Proteins often impart “off” flavors or aftertastes, making it necessary for beverage manufacturers to explore masking ingredients. Other common issues involve heat stability, acid/heat stability, clarity, dispersability (in dry mix applications) and solubility.
The Solae Co., St. Louis, Mo., markets soy proteins used extensively in both acidic (juice-based) beverages and neutral (more milk-like) beverages such as Cadbury Beverages’ Snapple a Day, General Mills’ 8th Continent soymilk and Unilever’s Ultra SlimFast Shake with Soy Protein. Having worked with such a variety of beverage applications, the company’s Jean Heggie, marketing leader, North America food, is quick to point out that each application boils down to flavor, texture and stability maintenance.
“In acidic beverages, the key challenges with adding soy, or any protein for that matter, to this type of system are flavor impact and protein stability,” she says. “In neutral beverages as well, the issues are flavor and protein stability, as well as viscosity, particularly at higher protein levels.”  
Heggie says Solae has developed specific proteins for acidic and neutral applications, and has developed technologies for both applications to help marketers address the unique challenges involved in incorporating soy proteins into such systems.
When formulating a beverage with protein, Heggie says that in order to successfully formulate to consumer expectations it is advisable for ingredient suppliers to work closely with product developers to understand their consumer, nutrition and taste targets.
But the processing of protein ingredients can present a number of challenges. “Protein ingredients need to be hydrated properly and usually have to have a homogenization step to provide the proper shelf-life stability and flavor or texture,” comments Deborah Schulz, market development manager at Cargill Inc., Minneapolis. “Most beverages require some form of stabilization using hydrocolloids. Acid beverages with protein must use a protein stabilizing agent — usually pectin — otherwise the protein precipitates. Also, thermal processing has a significant impact on flavor and stability. Some forms are more ‘friendly’ than others. Typically retort is most challenging, followed by UHT and pasteurization.”
Hilmar Ingredients, Hilmar, Calif., offers two Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) products, Hilmar 8200 and Hilmar 8610, which are specifically designed for better heat stability. According to the company’s Grace Harris, manager of applications and business development, the company also offers hydrolysates that can be used in beverage applications and give other nutritional benefits such as partially digested protein (i.e. FAA and peptides).
Glanbia Nutritionals, Monroe, Wis., offers Thermax 690 Heat Stable Whey Protein Isolate, which is stable in low-acid aseptic and retort beverages at high protein concentrations — 10 percent or greater. Compared to standard whey protein isolate, Thermax 690 offers the flexibility to formulate more protein into the finished beverage. The product is also processed in a way that virtually eliminates the bitterness usually associated with hydrolysates. And with less than 1 percent lactose, it doesn’t add to the net carb count of the finished beverage, making it ideal for low-carb formulations.
A matter of taste
In addition to processing difficulties, protein can present noticeable flavor and texture challenges. Protein beverages are renowned for imparting a noticeable aftertaste and soy beverages are usually characterized by a distinctive “beany” taste.  
Cargill’s Schulz says the No. 1 soy protein issue almost always revolves around flavor. “We use a different type of process to isolate the protein which produces better flavor, most notably a reduction in aftertaste. This is significant because it is very difficult, if not impossible, to use flavors to cover aftertaste,” she says.  
Cargill recently unveiled the newest addition to its Prolísse soy protein isolate product line, Prolísse 801 for powdered/dry blended beverages, which features a smooth mouthfeel and improved suspension. The company’s patented Prolísse product is formulated for use in ready-to-drink beverages, both low and high acid, and offers a reduced aftertaste. A patented processing method enables the isolate to provides excellent water absorption, fat binding and dispersability.  
The processing method also imparts a neutral, bland taste — a boon to manufacturers trying to find a way around the “beany” flavor that’s usually associated with soy-based drinks, according to Mary Thompson, president of Cargill’s Soy Protein Solutions. “Because Prolísse soy protein isolate tastes good (meaning it has a bland flavor, not the traditional beany soybean taste) incorporating a meaningful amount of soy protein into foods and beverages is easy,” Thompson says.
Solae recently collaborated with Tetra Pak to develop beverage concepts that not only showcase Tetra Pak packaging, but also the versatility, performance and application of Solae’s ingredients in beverage concepts that are on trend with consumer needs. This series of concepts include three products. The first product, Chocka Lotta, is a chocolate-flavored children’s beverage containing half the sugar of soda. The second product is Radiance, a unique apple-cucumber flavored product, based on the concept of building “beauty from within.” The third product is Tempo, a product based on an optimized blend of soy and whey proteins that is all about delivering “sustained energy.”
“These concepts showcase how it is possible to formulate great-tasting, nutritionally positioned beverages based on our ingredients, and are used to help beverage marketers understand how soy protein-based beverages can be positioned to address consumers’ nutrition interests and needs,” Heggie says.
Part and parcel to achieving a pleasing flavor is the ability to develop an appropriate mouthfeel. Often, manufacturers experience difficulty in achieving a desired texture in their protein beverages so they seek stabilizing ingredients.
“For a perfectly stabilized yogurt beverage or juice/milk drink, the proteins must be prevented from sedimentation,” says Ellen Trost, worldwide product manager for pectin at Danisco, Kansas City, Mo. “Pectin is able to effectively stabilize protein through the electrostatic interaction of the negatively charged pectin bound to the positively charged protein surface.”
Trost says pectin is a good alternative to starch, which can only slow protein sedimentation by building viscosity. “Pectin affords a wide range of textures and viscosities — from something as thin as skim milk to a beverage that is very rich and creamy,” she says. “Pectin allows you to stabilize the protein efficiently, while building the desired mouthfeel and texture.”
Danisco manufactures two pectins designed for dual functionality providing protein stabilization and rich, creamy and velvety texture and mouthfeel. According to Trost, Grindsted Pectin AMD 382 and 383 are ideal for indulgent beverages or to replace viscosity lost in reduced-sugar versions.
FMC BioPolymer, headquartered in Philadelphia, recently launched Avicel RT 1133 cellulose gel (to complement its existing Avicel microcrystalline cellulose stabilizer), which provides long-term shelf stability, creamy mouthfeel at reduced retort-processing time. The company says this new, “more flexible” offering delivers an excellent flavor profile, as well as a reliable product consistency without separation or settling.
Growing legions of consumers are coming to appreciate protein’s role in a healthy diet. Because beverages are such a convenient way to incorporate protein into the diet, manufacturers continue to formulate new products in an effort to make protein more accessible to a wider consumer audience. BI
Capitalizing on health benefits
The positive effects of whey protein consumption has been linked to everything from diabetes management and cardiovascular health to wound healing and anti-cancer benefits. But one of the most renowned benefits of whey protein in the role it plays in weight management — something Glanbia Nutritionals had in mind when it developed Prolibra Whey Mineral Protein, an ingredient said to induce positive changes in body composition by promoting fat loss while maintaining lean body mass. A patent-pending, dairy-derived ingredient, Prolibra is said to accelerate fat loss — inducing weight loss from fat, without sacrificing lean body mass. Prolibra also increases satiety, promoting the feeling of fullness longer. Further research is planned to clinically support further claims, including one human trial currently underway.