Comparative Analysis of Plant-Based Proteins in Food Formulation

By Thom King – Chief Innovations Officer,  Icon Foods

Icon Foods Comparative Analysis of Plant-Based Proteins in Food Formulation

In the realm of nutrition and healthcare, a powerful synergy is emerging between the rising demand for plant-based proteins and the use of GLP-1 agonists. This dynamic duo is reshaping the landscape of dietary choices and medical interventions, offering a potent combination of benefits for consumers looking to optimize their weight and well-being.

The use of GLP-1 agonists in the management of conditions such as type 2 diabetes and obesity are gaining massive traction with consumers carrying excessive weight. GLP-1 agonists are a class of medications that mimic the action of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which plays a key role in regulating blood sugar levels, appetite, and body weight. By activating GLP-1 receptors, these medications have shown efficacy in improving insulin sensitivity, and promoting weight loss.

When combined, plant-based proteins and GLP-1 agonists form a powerful alliance that can have synergistic effects on health outcomes. Plant-based proteins are known to have a positive impact on glycemic control and weight management, making them an excellent dietary choice for individuals with diabesity.

Plant-based proteins are rich in fiber, which plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels and promoting satiety. The combination of fiber-rich plant proteins and GLP-1 agonists can help individuals feel fuller for longer, reduce cravings for unhealthy foods, and support sustainable weight loss efforts.

Join Icon Foods while we explore and analyze eight distinct plant-based protein sources commonly used in food formulation, focusing on soy, pea, pumpkin seed, wheat, hemp seed, fava bean, chickpea, and mung bean proteins. Understanding the unique characteristics and attributes of each protein is essential for food manufacturers to develop innovative products that cater to consumer preferences and dietary needs.

Soy Protein

Soy protein is a well-established plant-based protein known for its high protein content and versatility. It is considered a complete protein source, containing all essential amino acids necessary for human nutrition. Soy protein is widely utilized in a variety of food products, including plant-based meat alternatives, dairy substitutes, and protein bars. However, challenges associated with soy production include allergenic potential for some individuals and environmental concerns related to deforestation for soy cultivation.

Pea Protein

Pea protein has emerged as a popular plant-based protein source due to its high protein content, digestibility, and hypoallergenic properties. This protein source is commonly used in plant-based meat substitutes, protein powders, and snack products. Pea protein offers a sustainable alternative to animal-based proteins but may impart a slightly earthy flavor to finished products.

Pumpkin Seed Protein

Pumpkin seed protein is a lesser-known plant-based protein with high protein content and a rich nutritional profile, including essential amino acids, minerals, and antioxidants. It is suitable for individuals with allergies to soy, gluten, or dairy. Pumpkin seed protein is utilized in protein powders, energy bars, and baked goods. Challenges associated with pumpkin seed protein include higher production costs and limited availability compared to more mainstream plant-based proteins.

Wheat Protein

Wheat protein, or wheat gluten, is a plant-based protein source with a high protein content and exceptional functionality, commonly used in baked goods, pasta, and meat analogues. However, wheat protein is not suitable for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, limiting its application in gluten-free products. Considerations regarding the environmental impact of wheat cultivation are also relevant for sustainable food production.

Hemp Seed Protein

Hemp seed protein is derived from hemp seeds and is gaining popularity for its balanced amino acid profile, omega-3 fatty acids, and bioactive compounds. It is utilized in protein powders, plant-based milk alternatives, and energy bars. Hemp seed protein offers a sustainable protein source but may have a distinct nutty flavor that influences product taste.

Fava Bean Protein

Fava bean protein is a protein source derived from fava beans, known for its high protein content and nutritional benefits. It is utilized in plant-based meat alternatives, protein supplements, and bakery products. Fava bean protein offers a hypoallergenic option for individuals with common
allergies and provides a sustainable protein source. Challenges associated with fava bean protein include its potential to cause flatulence due to its high fiber content and the need for flavor masking in some applications.

Chickpea Protein

Chickpea protein is sourced from chickpeas and is known for its protein content, fiber, and various essential nutrients. It is commonly used in plant-based meat substitutes, snack products, and protein bars. Chickpea protein offers a versatile and sustainable protein option but may require additional processing to improve its functional properties for certain applications.

Mung Bean Protein

Mung bean protein is a protein derived from mung beans, featuring a good amino acid profile and digestibility. It is utilized in plant-based meat alternatives, dairy alternatives, and baked goods. Mung bean protein offers a hypoallergenic protein source but may face challenges related to limited availability and higher production costs compared to more widely used plant-based proteins.


Each plant-based protein source offers unique nutritional profiles, functional properties, and challenges that should be considered in product development. One common challenge that manufacturers and consumers encounter is the presence of flavor off-notes that can affect the taste and overall palatability of formulations. Understanding and addressing these off-notes is crucial to enhancing the sensory experience of plant-based protein products and increasing their acceptance among consumers.


One of the most common off-notes in plant-based proteins is bitterness, which can be attributed to compounds such as tannins, alkaloids, and phenolic compounds present in certain plant sources. Bitterness can be off-putting to some consumers and may limit the appeal of plant-based products. Formulators can mitigate bitterness by using positive allosteric modulators like Icon Foods’ Thausweet DRM to neutralize or balance the bitter off-notes.

Earthy or Grassiness

Plant-based proteins derived from sources like peas, hemp, and algae can sometimes exhibit earthy or grassy flavors that may not be universally appealing. These notes are often associated with the presence of chlorophyll, terpenes, or other natural compounds in plant sources. To reduce earthy or grassy off-notes, formulators can employ flavor masking techniques such as Icon Foods’ MonkSweet LS. MonkSweet LS is a blend of mogoside V, the sweet constituent found in monk fruit, and rebaudioside A, one of the sweet glycosides found in the stevia leaf. This powerful combination has very pronounced masking characteristics and can enhance whatever flavor system is used.

Nutty or Beany

Certain plant-based proteins, such as soy and legume-based proteins, can have nutty or beany flavor profiles that may be considered undesirable by some consumers. These notes can be intensified during processing or storage, impacting the overall taste of the final product. To address nutty or beany off-notes, formulators can use flavor modification techniques, such as those found in Icon Foods’ Thausweet DRM, to enhance desirable flavors and reduce unwanted tastes.


Astringency is another off-note commonly associated with plant-based proteins, characterized by a dry, puckering sensation in the mouth. Astringency can be caused by tannins or polyphenols present in plant sources and can detract from the overall sensory experience of a product. To minimize astringency, formulators can optimize processing parameters, such as pH adjustment or temperature control, in tandem with a sweetener blend, like allulose in combination with RebM stevia extract. For best results, formulators should use a sweetening system like KetoseSweet+a blend of allulose, monk fruit, and stevia.

Metallic or Chemical

In some cases, plant-based proteins may exhibit metallic or chemical off-notes, which can result from interactions between proteins and metal ions during processing or storage. These off-notes can impart an unpleasant taste and odor to the final product. Manufacturers can prevent or mitigate metallic or chemical off-notes by using high-quality ingredients, selecting appropriate processing equipment, and conducting thorough quality control measures.


While plant-based proteins offer a wealth of nutritional benefits and sustainability advantages, addressing off-notes is essential to enhancing the consumer acceptance and market success of these products. Having the best solutions in your formulation tool kit can help mitigate them. With the help of your Icon Food representative, you can create plant-based protein products that are not only nutritious but also delicious and successful.

Reach out to your Icon Foods representative for sweetening solution samples, documentation and usage guidance.

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