•DOST-funded Pinoy scientists are researching plant proteins to address nutritional deficiencies and food wastage in the country.
•The team will extract protein concentrates from pressed coconut meal (copra meal), rice bran, cowpea (paayap), pigeon pea (kadyos), and other vegetables and agricultural by-products.
•They will begin applying their findings in the fields of sports nutrition, food production, and dietary supplements.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought numerous lessons and issues back into the general consciousness of many Filipinos. One of the most significant reminders, of course, is that hunger remains a major problem in our country, especially at a time like this. The long lines of people waiting for food donations and cash assistance from the government (ayuda) emphasizes the fact that everyone goes hungry, without exception—and unfortunately, it is the poor who suffer the most.
Knowing all of this makes it even harder to wrap one’s mind around the reality that we waste so much food. Statistics from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that each year, humans waste approximately 1.3 billion tons of food—about a third of the food we produce for our own consumption—with food losses and waste amounting to about USD 310 billion in developing countries. Filipinos waste about 308,000 tons of rice, our staple food, per year. And in Metro Manila, roughly 2,175 tons of food end up getting thrown away each day. Considering how an estimated 13 million Filipinos are forced to live on less than three meals a day, this isn’t just tragic, it’s unacceptable.
Fortunately, scientists from the Industrial Technology Development Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ITDI) is doing something about it. Focusing on agricultural waste, food technologist Lourdes Montevirgen and her team are researching coconut, rice, and vegetable waste in an effort to harness an “untapped wealth” of sorts: plant proteins, or as others call it, “green gold.”
From green garbage to green gold
According to India-based firm Markets and Markets Research Private Ltd., the global functional protein market is projected to reach USD 5.73 billion by the year 2022. Thus, this is an excellent time for Filipino scientists to establish a foothold in this developing industry, while hitting two birds with one stone.
With funding from the DOST Grants-In-Aid program, Montevirgen’s team will extract protein concentrates from pressed coconut meal (copra meal), rice bran, cowpea (paayap), pigeon pea (kadyos), and other vegetables and agricultural by-products. These local sources tend to be underutilized, and end up contributing to the growing food waste problem.
Under the project, the team will develop and modify existing methods of pretreatment, extraction, and recovery of plant proteins. This will maximize the productivity, reliability, and efficiency of the overall process. One of the team’s main areas of focus is tapping into alternative source materials to reduce our dependency on animal proteins and other commonly used resources.
Go, grow, and glow
The project has already started, and the team is looking into applying their findings within the fields of sports nutrition (e.g. high-protein beverages), food production (e.g. animal meat alternatives, liquid food stabilizers and emulsifiers, infant formula), and dietary supplements.
The team is confident that alongside growing consumer awareness and demand worldwide, their research will have a significant impact on the local functional protein market. Hopefully, with this planned utilization of plant proteins and alternative nutritional sources, Filipinos will have affordable options in the near future for avoiding chronic diseases and shifting to a healthier diet, all while addressing the persistent problem of food wastage.
- DOST-ITDI S&T Media Service