Mining proteins for beneficial properties potentially useful in future food, sports drinks and nutraceutical/pharmaceutical applications products is an important task for New Zealand’s red meat sector. A scientific team is seeking to add value to its product streams through health and flavour attributes.
AgResearch science impact leader meat products and supply, Dr Cameron Craigie, describes the work of the proteins and biochemistry team from the Crown Research Institute’s Food and Bio-based Products Group as “Foods with Benefits”.
“Sensory performance is a must have for consumers, but we also need to look at identifying additional beneficial attributes for meat consumers, beyond the sensory experience,” he says.
“The team is using deep phenotyping to start to understand what the underlying biology is behind every element of meat protein and lipids.”
Protein biochemistry specialist and AgResearch senior scientist Dr Santanu Deb-Choudhury is in one of the teams working on that understanding.
His interest in proteins was piqued during his Masters and PhD Biochemistry degrees at India’s North Eastern Hill University, which focused on protein chemistry. He subsequently worked at one of India’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Biocon India Ltd, where he was extracting elements for future pharmaceutical use.
Deb-Choudhury arrived in New Zealand in 1998 and eventually joined Massey University as a post-doctoral researcher under Dr Gillian Norris at the Institute of Molecular and BioSciences. While there, he was involved in projects on collagen use and function with LASRA, (the New Zealand Leather and Shoe Research Association).
In 2007, he was offered his current job with AgResearch and the New Zealander is now happily settled in Canterbury with his young family near his work at its Lincoln Research Centre. There he is engaged in a wide range of projects, especially where they need application of chromatography, electrophoresis and mass spectrometry techniques.
Part of his work involves bioactive peptide discovery. He says they have not yet discovered everything there is to know about these short peptides, which may range from 2-20 amino acids in length.
“In particular, we’re working on our understanding various interactions between these peptides and other substances by which we can manipulate flavour in meat-based ingredients with increased flavour intensities.” he explains.
Another team member Dr Stephen Haines started to develop a database of peptides and related profiles in 2012. Information was initially obtained from multiple public databases and scientific literature but has since grown to over 65,000 profile entries in categories – such as antihypertensive, antimicrobial, antioxidative, ace-inhibitors, opioid, enzyme inhibitory and so on – and several flavour attributes.
“Bioactives can be free, which will directly contribute to the sample’s bioactivity or encrypted also known as cryptides. These are short peptide sequences that will contribute to the sample’s bioactivity if released from longer sequences, by enzyme action, such as during chewing or during digestion,” says Deb-Choudhury.
The team also has bitterness prediction tools, based on the peptide sequences and sizes. “Bitterness is most common, but we can also identify salty, sweet, sour and umami elements of flavour profiles that may offset the bitterness,” he says.
The team is now moving to prediction linked to processing conditions and to using a single platform to get a comprehensive understanding of the nutritive and taste qualities of food.
Dr Deb-Choudhury spoke on the topic at the recent New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology conference, using beef co-products as an example. He talked about what sort of peptides and amino acids can be produced, what their properties were and how they could be combined to produce interesting flavour profiles.
“We’re getting nice trends,” he explains, “Not only peptides but also unique amino acid profiles too, which give unique taste properties. Nothing is in isolation.”
Ongoing work is investigating bioactive peptide generation when meat is combined with a co-product – such as spleen, kidney or liver – the aim being to generate greater value from the lower-value product streams from meat processing plants.
“We simulated digestion of the extracts and modelled where they could be released in the gut,” he explains, adding more work will be needed on whether the bioactive peptides would survive the enzymatic processes at that point.
He has already started to write up a paper on the co-products work, funded by the AgResearch Strategic Science Investment Fund, which will include taste profiles and the early work on physiological activity prediction.
Another major project linked to this work will start with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) in the near future to see if flavours can be intensified for products used for snacks and the elder-care sector.
A multi-team approach is a key to the group’s success within AgResearch. The bioactive peptide related work is also acting as an important platform and informer for other AgResearch studies. These include Dr Carolina Realini’s work on sheep age and flavour of lamb and food technologist Dr Mustafa Farouk’s work on condiments/marinades on meat.