Text: Marjatta Sihvonen
The Natural Resources Institute Finland and the meat and food company HKScan are conducting joint research into what food industry by-products could be used to replace salt. Peptides that are suitable as candidates have already been tasted.
For Mika Tuomola, Vice President of Research and Development at HKScan, it is self-evident that the food industry needs research partners.
“The dialogue between research and business has improved considerably in recent years. Results are produced when we can exchange ideas about what can best be ascertained through research and about what kind of information we need in the industry,” Tuomola says.
Research keeps meat on the plate?
This autumn, pulled oats and other plant protein products have received considerable attention. Tuomola does not regard the new products as a threat to the meat industry. On the contrary – the diversifying range of products looks interesting to the head of research at one of the largest food companies in northern Europe. In Tuomola’s view, the meat sector and its products must, however, continually develop in order to ensure that meat remains a central part of a healthy mixed diet.
Substituting the sodium contained in salt, which is harmful to health, with other substances is one of the themes which is being studied intensively around the world. Luke’s initial results regarding salty-tasting peptides obtained from chickens have been received with interest.
“Saltiness is an integral part of flavour in food. Many foods are in any case difficult to obtain in an unsalted form. Salt is sprinkled on the surface of bread too, as it tastes so delicious to us,” Tuomola points out.
Substituting salt, which is recognised as a risk factor for hypertension, with peptides may therefore be important for public health too.
Towards the top of the pyramid
The so-called side flows, which arise from the production of HKScan’s broiler products are utilised in the research.
“We currently already make use of all side flows, but we are developing chains continuously. We regard side flows as a pyramid in which use, for example, in power production is bottommost, and production of material suitable for the pharmaceutical industry topmost. The aim is to move as high up in the pyramid as possible,” Tuomola says.
The aim is not to stop using salt completely as, in addition to flavour, salt is also important for the structure and preservation of food. A good research result that is applicable in production consists of data enabling the sodium content of meat products to be lowered whilst at the same time obtaining more benefit from side flows.
HKScan utilises results
Luke is responsible for planning and implementing the research. HKScan, on the other hand, is interested in results that have industrial applications.
HKScan has a number of research partners. Projects with various universities and VTT are underway. Tuomola points out that another important part of research is the development of pilot and industrial-scale methods – a link from laboratory to production.
“For consumers, one of the most visible products resulting from research is Rypsiporsas rapeseed pork, which is a registered brand. The majority of research, however, is not visible to the consumer. Results have been applied to a considerable extent in developing animal feeding and feeds, in enhancing the efficiency of the industry’s processes and in reducing the carbon footprint. These aspects should be highlighted more and reported to consumers,” Tuomola considers.
Competition and continuity
HKScan operates throughout the Baltic area, and so research collaboration is international. Competition is also tough, and it was no accident that Luke was selected to conduct the peptide research.
“A research institute must develop its own profile in order to be a credible and interesting partner. The ‘everything for everyone’ approach does not work,” Tuomola says. He hopes that in the future, too, food research will remain at the top of Luke’s portfolio of expertise.
“Food is a key element of the bioeconomy – food scientists invented the term bioeconomy already long before politicians,” Tuomola points out.
Tuomola also emphasises continuity of cooperation. Public funding is needed to secure research facilities in order to ensure that not all activities become short-term project work. It should be easy for data resources and experts to be utilised also after the project has ended.
HKScan is happy to collaborate with new kinds of research experts too.
“Research institutes provide little research on, for example, consumer behaviour. More would be welcome,” says the head of research.