Improving the Flavor of Plant-based Proteins at KeyLeaf - Q&A with KeyLeaf’s Dr. Suneru Perera

As consumers seek healthier and more sustainable alternatives to animal products, it is important to make sure the proteins appeal to more consumers. Plant proteins, such as pea, soy, rice, chia, and hemp proteins, are known to have off flavors – meaning they tend to taste like the plants they come from, which can range from beany to green to bitter.  We sat down with KeyLeaf Protein Scientist, Dr. Suneru Perera, to ask a few questions about a project he is working on that can make plant proteins taste better and appeal to a wider audience.  


Why is improving flavor of plant-based proteins important?


SP:  Flavor is one of the most important characteristics of any food ingredient. Off flavors often limit the utilization of an ingredient in a wide array of food applications, even if the ingredient could deliver superior functional properties.  If it tastes better, people will be more willing to add these ingredients to their diet.


How are off flavors a challenge?


SP: Off flavors are one of the major challenges to the plant-based protein industry as multiple factors contribute to the off-flavors, and it is a complex problem. Mitigating off flavors from plant-based protein ingredients is important to gain their full potential. This will allow plant-based proteins to be utilized in food applications without sensory barriers, which is why not having off-flavors is crucial for an ingredient to succeed in the market. 


How is KeyLeaf going to lead the path toward improving flavors in plant-based proteins?


SP:  KeyLeaf’s Innovations team is focused on finding economical and sustainable solutions for such challenges faced by the food ingredient industry. Since plant-based protein processing lies well within KeyLeaf’s forte, our team, led by Dr. Thushan Withana-Gamage, is working in collaboration with Dr. Michael Nickerson - College of Agriculture and Bioresources| University of Saskatchewan ( to develop environmentally friendly & robust process technologies to improve plant-based protein flavor.


That sounds promising! Anything else to share?


SP:  Yes, it is.  In fact, we are recent recipients of funding from Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) to help with the first step in this journey.  This funding will allow KeyLeaf to focus on developing a process to improve pea protein flavor using clean-label structural modifications.  More to come on this as we continue with our ingredient developments journey.

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