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Startup Innovation Challenge

Sustainable yeast-based protein gets ready for market [Interview]

Article-Sustainable yeast-based protein gets ready for market [Interview]

German startup SACCHA uses brewer's yeast, a by-product of beer brewing, to make a nutritious protein that can replace egg in vegan products or improve the texture in gluten-free baking, and it can tweak the taste of the protein according to manufacturers' needs.

The sixth edition of the Fi Global Startup Innovation Challenge, held at Fi Europe 2021, co-located with Hi Europe, in Frankfurt, gave startups the opportunity to pitch their ideas to a jury of R&D experts, investors, and major F&B industry company representatives. SACCHA was one of the finalists in the Most Innovative Plant-Based or Alternative Ingredient category, recognised for its innovative use of microorganisms to create the next generation of animal-free proteins.

We spoke with the company’s founder, Christoph Pitter, about the inspiration behind his company’s unique yeast-based protein ingredient, as well as the myriad benefits this product presents to innovative-minded manufacturers. 

“We wanted to introduce our proteins to a wide audience and stimulate their creativity and imagination to work together on new products for a better future,” explains Pitter. “There is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution in the realm of proteins for food applications. Our strength is that we adapt our proteins to the individual applications of our customers to ensure optimal texture, nutritional value and sensory properties for their alternative product.”

Flexible protein source

The story behind SACCHA begins with a road trip through India. After completing a master’s degree in industrial engineering, Pitter set off in a van through the subcontinent, and made a pledge to himself to give up animal products as much as possible.

“As a passionate athlete, I always drank a whey protein shake after exercise,” he adds. “But no matter which plant-based protein powder I tried, all of them simply didn’t taste great and didn't support my muscles that well.”

Pitter was inspired to think about creating better vegan proteins by reimagining one of the oldest cultural technologies of food production – fermentation. This led eventually to the launch of SACCHA.

“We saw that the market was desperately looking for vegan proteins that have the functional properties of animal proteins,” he says. “But at present, these proteins do not yet exist. Vegan proteins are derived almost exclusively from plants. This means that manufacturers of alternative products have to rely on many different additives to mask the unpleasant taste of plant proteins, and to compensate for the lack of functional properties.”

To address this, Pitter and his team at SACCHA worked to develop a solution that uses a by-product of brewing: brewer’s yeast. Through trial and error and on a shoestring budget, the team arrived at a process capable of recovering all the yeast's natural proteins, in a highly efficient and sustainable manner.

“Our protein concentrate from yeast is neutral in taste,” says Pitter. “The proteins obtained are also flexible in terms of functional properties. For example, the protein can be used as an egg substitute and, in this case, also resembles the animal product in terms of stability and consistency. This could be interesting for adding an airy texture to plant-based or gluten-free baked goods.”

The company can also specifically control the taste of the protein. It is possible, for example, to achieve a completely tasteless result or to deliberately use the yeast's own flavour to achieve a pleasant umami taste for meat alternatives.

Tapping new opportunities

Pitter believes that his startup is now well-positioned to take advantage of evolving consumer tastes and expectations.

“Internet search queries for vegan alternatives have increased rapidly in recent years,” he notes. “Customers want healthier, cheaper, and tastier alternative products. To produce these alternatives, vegan protein is needed, and the market for alternative protein is set to skyrocket from $40 billion today to $300 billion in 2035.”

SACCHA aims to meet this demand by offering customised proteins to food manufacturers that help them develop a wider range of healthier, sustainable, and tastier products.

“A big challenge at the beginning was to put together the right team of businesspeople and engineers, to lay the foundations for the long term,” says Pitter. “We are currently working to address the challenges of manufacturing and distribution.”

This year, SACCHA will get a new name and branding, and raise money to begin construction of a pilot plant before the end of the year. The goal, says Pitter, is to launch the first retail products in the first half of 2023.