The Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda of the Generalitat of Catalonia and the Institute of Agri-Food Research and Technology (IRTA) have presented the new Center for Innovation in Alternative Proteins (CiPA) within the framework of the FoodTech Food Fair , which will be celebrates these days in Barcelona, with the aim of valuing alternative sources of protein to traditional ones .

Food, its present and its future, has been the subject of frequent debate in recent years, and is experiencing many changes. The meat analogue production sector has experienced strong market growth globally, and is generally considered to be consolidating. Several specialized international reports* suggest that the global value of the sector is around 7.5 billion dollars, and agree that Europe is considered a key player, with year-on-year growth forecasts of 7.7%. In part it is due to the figures achieved in the State, which had an extraordinary 2021 both in sales (448 million euros) and in investment (25 million euros).

In this scenario, the European Union is promoting the so-called “protein transition” , which proposes rationalizing our intake of animal meat and increasing alternative protein sources: vegetables, microalgae, fermentation of fungi (and other microorganisms) and insects . It is also expected that these new protein sources will contribute to reducing the environmental impact of traditional food production, promoting a healthier and more self-sufficient diet, coming from sustainable local productions. All of this represents an opportunity for the Catalan agri-food sector , which can become an important lever for the transformation of the country's food system.

In this context, and taking into account the presence of the industry at the Alimentaria FoodTech fair, the Institute of Agri-Food Research and Technology (IRTA) and the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda, have presented this morning a new pioneering center in research and innovation in this area: the Center for Innovation in Alternative Proteins (CiPA).

A unique and pioneering center

Until now, there was no infrastructure in Catalonia or Spain with specific unique equipment, focused on research and innovation on ingredients and food products in the specific field of alternative proteins, that combines laboratory research and pilot plants. For this reason, "CiPA aspires to be a reference center in the search for alternative proteins in southern Europe ," says Josep Usall , general director of IRTA.

The objective of CiPA is to promote the sustainable production of food and feed in Catalonia, valuing alternative sources of protein for animal and human nutrition. The new Alternative Protein Innovation Center promotes research and technology related to co-products, by-products, waste and surpluses from the agri-food sector.

One of its differential values is that it covers the various phases of the value chain, from the production of raw materials to the consumer: biomass production, protein extraction and purification, functionalization of new ingredients, organoleptic evaluation and of food safety and, finally, its integration into reformulated food prototypes. Carmel Mòdol , Secretary of Food of the Department of Climate Action, values this initiative: «IRTA is our reference research institute in agri-food, and the creation of this center, so important for the future of our sector, reaffirms the commitment of the Department in the food of the future.

Sustainable protein production is an initiative of IRTA's strategic plan and one of the priority lines in the future strategy of its Food Industries area. IRTA's current infrastructure, capabilities and experience constitute a solid basis to actively participate in the design and implementation of a global strategy that responds to this important opportunity.

The CiPA will not have a single location , but will be distributed throughout the Catalan territory taking advantage of the facilities and experience of the IRTA scientific staff in lines of research on plant protein, fermentation, algae and insects. The team of the new innovation center is mainly made up of researchers located at the IRTA Monells center . But it will also have other teams from Girona ( IRTA Mas Badia ), Lleida ( IRTA Fruitcentre ), and Tarragona ( IRTA Mas Bové and IRTA La Ràpita ).

It is expected that the process of providing technological equipment, which has already begun, will be deployed until 2027, led by the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda and with the support of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). .

From nature to the table

«Among the specific objectives of the CiPA, there is the production of “biomass”, the organic matter obtained from vegetables rich in protein and from solid, liquid and precision fermentation with microorganisms (such as bacteria, yeasts or fungi), as well as of algae and insects" explains Joan Manel Albacete , manager of the Food Industries Area. Precisely, last year the Institute was already a reference in obtaining proteins from the fermentation of fungi and yeast, as co-organizer of the fifth Meat and Alternative Protein Forum .

From processes like these, food ingredients, protein concentrates and isolates can be obtained, necessary for the development of foods rich in proteins for both human and animal nutrition (feed). And with these ingredients based on alternative proteins, we can focus on creating innovative, sustainable, tasty, healthy and safe foods.

Thanks to research and technology, the new center also promotes circularity in food production, because the new ingredients and products based on alternative protein are also based on the use and valorization of co-products, by-products, waste or surpluses from the agri-food sector.

But ultimately, consumers are the ones who evaluate and choose their diet. What is the social impact of the implementation of these foods? What do they miss compared to traditional meat products, or what do they reject? It is key to consider them in innovation processes, which is why the CiPA will also be equipped with a neuroscience laboratory .

All this will entail an expansion of knowledge of the nutritional, functional, sensory and food safety parameters of these foods. And, of course, this knowledge will be transferred to the productive sector , which will be able to move, accompanied by IRTA and the new CiPA, in an efficient, safe and sustainable way towards the food of the future.

* Plant-based foods in Europe: How big is the market? - retail scanning data (Nielsen MarketTrack)

About IRTA

The IRTA (Institute of Agri-Food Research and Technology) is a research institute dedicated to agri-food R&D&I in the fields of plant production, animal production, food industries, environment, global change and agri-food economy. The transfer of its scientific advances contributes to the modernization, competitiveness and sustainable development of the agricultural, food and aquaculture sectors, to the provision of healthy and quality food for consumers, as well as improving the well-being of the population. IRTA is attached to the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda (DACC) of the Generalitat of Catalonia and is part of the CERCA system.

Imagen: The IRTA center in Monells (Girona) will host the majority of CiPA resources.

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