Scientists from the University of York are collaborating on a new environmentally-friendly research project to produce a low-cost alternative protein derived from amaranth that can be used in product formulations of alt meat and other plant-based foods.
Funded by Innovate UK, VIP Leaf will bring together vertical farming technology and crop biology experts to develop high-protein amaranth crops with high-yielding performance. The project’s ultimate goal is to address the growing plant-based proteins demand and reduce UK imports of soy and pea.
Vertical Future will lead the two-year project with the University of York, Crop Health and Protection Limited (CHAP), an Innovate UK-funded agri-tech centre. Syan Farms and plant-based food company Eat Curious also joined the project.
An undervalued crop in the UK
Amaranth is undervalued in the current UK food market, despite offering many health benefits, antioxidants, and proteins. According to VIP Leaf, South Africa, South East Asia, and South America commonly consume amaranth as a lower-cost alternative to pea protein.
Initiatives using amaranth include India’s ingredient company Proeon, which develops plant protein ingredients with excellent nutritional, sensory, and functional properties using mung ben and amaranth.
German influencer Gordon Prox launched a snack brand called el origen that includes organic amaranth crispies. And in the USA, multinational food company Sigma Alimentos launched an amaranth-based, fun-to-eat snack called Chocke Obleas last year.
Opportunities for the UK
VIP Leaf argues that using amaranth as a source of protein to make plant-based foods could boost the UK economy and improve consumers’ health.
Additionally, by exclusively growing plants inside vertical farming facilities, they can be grown year-round in the UK, reducing carbon emissions related to local and international transport.
Furthermore, by using a trailblazing approach to food science and farming, the project aims to align with the UK Net Zero Carbon target by 2050.
Professor Katherine Denby, from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), at the University of York, said: “We are excited to bring our extensive knowledge and expertise in horticulture and plant science to the VIP Leaf project. We work on developing improved lines of amaranth for smallholder farmers in Southern Africa. We are excited to be able to now exploit opportunities for this underutilized crop in the UK.”