Wth its protein and nutrition-packed white and yellow parts, eggs have long been the reigning protein champion, but a new processing technique on an unlikely food may soon shake egg's muscle-building foundation.
While canola oil's low levels of saturated fat and erucic acid and beneficial omega-3 fatty acid properties have long been valued by the food industry, the crushing process byproductcanola mealhas with its high fiber and phytate levels been a conundrum for processors, having little value in the animal feed market.
But Alan Verbitsky of Verbitsky Farms said he has discovered a process which separates the highly nutritional protein in the meal approximately 36 percent from the low nutritional elements such as fiber, starch and soluables like raffinose.
"When you separate it out, it's like eggs in that it too has white and yellow parts. The albumin similar to egg whites could be used in the baking industry while the globulins the nutrition in the yellow portion could be used for baby formula and other foods that need a nutritional boost," he said. "Because it is not an animal-based protein, there's no salmonella issues and because we can separate it into just white, just yellow or a mix, we have the ability to give them exactly what they want."
Just as the soybean industry has done in recent years, Vertisky's main objective with the new technology is to tap into the growing allergy and specialty food market as well as the greater $6 billion egg industry.
"The baking industry has to put in a lot of safety and preventative measures because of the salmonella threat (from eggs) so I think they would come on board," he said. "More people are having problems with soy products so that would work in our favor too ... but the simple business side of it is that canola is a better protein than soy. Bakers are going to go with the best protein."
The measurement used to determine the quality of animal and plant proteins, Protein Effeciency Ratio (PER), puts egg whites at No. 1 with 3.71 PER, followed by minced beef at 3.36 PER. Canola meal, at 3.29 PER, is more than double soy meal's rate of 1.6 PER.
Verbitsky, a process engineer who has experience in designing food grade and industrial plants, said he came up with the separation process two years ago while working with a Chinese company that produces glass noodles.
"They wanted to separate the protein from the starch in the peas they used to make the noodles," he said. "I had already had the canola meal market sorted for the plant so I wasn't interested in the protein until this interaction with the Chinese man helped spur the development."
Although Verbitsky refused to go into great detail about the separation process, he said it involves particular chemicals and two tanks that are placed using "a specific geometry" and specialized plumbing.
"I don't believe in complicated things," he said. "Albert Einstein's greatest achievement, E=MC2, is deceptively simple. This is deceptively simple."
While it may be simple, it wasn't easy.
Like many other processors before, Verbitsky said he had to make several adjustments to the tanks and the methods he used.
"Many processors have tried and failed. Most use high heat processes which damages the protein permanently making it nutritionally unuseful," he said. "I had to revamp the entire pressing process to get a useable protein and I had to make some adjustments to the protein separation tanks."
With a proven process now under his belt, Verbitsky is moving on to the next stage construction of a canola crushing plant near Sawyer.
Construction for the 1 million-gallon capacity facility was completed last fall and crews are currently in the process of installing electricity and equipment.
Verbitsky said the current plan is to have the facility up and running by the end of the summer and begin the protein separation process. If the 55 gallons of protein elements sent to major players in the baking industry to test are approved, he said the facility will have the capacity to immediately begin the commercialization process.
Although Verbitsky said he has several local, national and international investors interested in the project, he said the decision to begin with a 1 million-gallon pilot plant was purely financial.
"The idea to build the pilot plant follows my business plan to operate at the peak of performance," he said. "The trick is not how much money you make, but how much you keep. Would I consider going bigger? Yes, but I don't know right now where I would build or to what capacity."
He does face some competition.
Burcon Nutrascience, a Canadian-based research and development company, is working with ADM to develop and commercialize canola protein for use in human food and beverages. The company is in the process of commercializing their Puratein and Supertein canola protein isolates and now hold several patents in the U.S. and abroad.