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Development of a pulse protein-based pet food kibble through lab and pilot scale studies

A made-in-Alberta idea for protein-optimized pet food is showing significant promise and could one day open up a massive new market for pulse growers.

Today’s pet owners are taking more and more care with the diets of their dogs and cats. Our province’s pulse crops could be the perfect feedstock for a new generation of pet foods.

Compared to the meat ingredients traditionally used in pet food, pulses have many qualities that are attractive to pet food manufacturers. Dry pulses are far easier to handle, have a competitive cost per tonne, are less perishable and are an excellent source of protein.

“In another investigation, we’re looking at the characterization of protein in faba beans,” said Thava Vasanthan, a Professor in Agricultural Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta. “Faba bean is an expanding crop in Western Canada and has a protein advantage over field peas.”

The research Vasanthan mentions is a project led by U of A colleague Feral Temelli – see the story on page X – investigating efficient ways to fractionate faba bean for functional food uses. While protein in faba bean is typically around 26%, Temelli’s project investigated removing the outer layers of the faba bean where most of its protein resides, resulting in a faba bean fraction that’s up to 42% protein. This super-ingredient is sure to get the attention of pet food makers.

Digestibility and taste: two important factors

Over the next two years of this three-year research project, Vasanthan and co-investigator University of Alberta Professor Ruurd Zijlstra will optimize the pet food’s protein concentration, manufacture test lines and perform taste trials of the food with dogs.

To ensure optimum digestibility of the pulse protein, Vasanthan and Zijlstra have been testing different enzymes that aid in canine digestion, including phytase and phenolic acid esterase. They’ve found that when these enzymes work in tandem, there’s a significant improvement in the protein’s digestibility.

“We digested the faba bean protein in the presence of these enzymes and took the digestibility from 70% or 80% to start, up to 86%,” he said. “This is an important advantage in pet food where high digestibility of the protein is expected.”

To create the pet food kibble, Vasanthan and Zijlstra will use the state-of-the-art food manufacturing facilities at the new University of Alberta Agri-Food Discovery Place. Sensory testing with dogs will occur late in 2019 under the watchful eye of pet food nutritionist Professor Kate Shoveller from the University of Guelph.

This multi-faceted collaborative research is not only poised to make a difference to the nutrition and economics of pet food manufacturing. It’s also helping to add depth to the academic and technical expertise of Albertans in a growing area of the economy.

“The final aspect of this project is that we’re training graduate students to make them available to work in the pet food industry,” Vasanthan said. “The pet food industry is expanding fast, and they’ll need people to serve the industry.”