Probing the Flexitarian Diet: Innovations in Kosher Plant-Based Protein Foods

Chickpeas are a common plant-based protein base.

The flexitarian diet has gained in popularity and with many studies saying it’s the healthiest. It’s grounded in the Mediterranean diet, and is the best of meat and plant based worlds.

When discussing any kind of diet, the fundamental issue is usually protein. Proteins are the building blocks of life and are needed for many reasons in the body including muscle growth and brain function. For instance, when it comes to the brain, billions of neurons communicate with each other via neurotransmitters that are made of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Therefore, the ingestion of protein ensures vibrant brain communication.

Why Plant-Based Foods and Meat Should Both be Consumed

Both plant-based foods and meat each have advantages and disadvantages in the protein area, and this is the logic of why they must work together. Some plant-based fruits and vegetables are incomplete in the protein area and don’t contain the full list of amino acids needed for the body. On the other hand, proteins from meat are mostly complete. However, meat has the disadvantage as the intake needs to be moderated because of the excessive saturated fats, though it contains heme iron, which is easily absorbed by the body as opposed to non-heme iron which comes from plant-based foods and is absorbed with greater difficulty.

OU Kosher Certified Companies Innovate in the Plant-Based Protein Area

ADM is now using pinto beans as a protein base.

ADM is now using pinto beans as a protein base.

Companies have made strides in formulating plant-based foods to contain the full amount of amino acids. Besides being concerned in fortifying the plant-based items, companies are becoming creative in which proteins to use to enhance taste and texture.

For instance, some of the behemoth companies in the food industry like ADM, Glanbia Nutritionals and Kerry that are all OU kosher certified, are exploring new territory in the plant-based protein area. Not only are soy and peas looked to for protein sources, but now even such items as navy beans and walnuts are being used in protein formulations.

ADM has been trailblazing with a multitude of offerings. They are now using navy, black, small red and pinto beans as base ingredients. Travis Green, vice president of wholesome food ingredients, ADM, Chicago said, “With similar nutritional benefits among our bean and pulse ingredients, product developers can make selections from our portfolio based on color, functionality and taste,” He does note that, “Nuts and seeds have the most positive plant consumer perceptions…”

Walnuts are now being used as a protein base.

Walnuts are now being used as a protein base.

In terms of nuts, walnuts have become a popular base for plant-based formulations. Jennifer Williams, marketing director, California Walnut Board and Commission, Folsom, California, said regarding walnuts, they are “the only nut that is an excellent source of plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, with 2.5 grams per oz. The inclusion of omega-3s adds an additional benefit to both walnut protein ingredients.”

Glanbia Nutritionals gives an indication of where the future lies with plant-based protein, as it notes on its website, “While legumes (such as chickpea, lentil, and lupin) and seeds (such as sunflower, chia, and flax seeds) remain top choices due to their naturally high protein content, certain grains, mushrooms, and seaweeds are also being investigated as protein sources.” It has become evident that the boundaries are being pushed for protein sources. However, Glanbia Nutritionals is always focused on the consumer. It has its eyes on the big picture, emphasizing health and taste, as pointed out by Michael Levine, director, product strategy, Flavours at Glanbia Nutritionals, “Indulgence and health do not have to be mutually exclusive.”

In the science and technology area, Kerry is looking at how to create plant-based proteins that mimic the taste and texture of animal proteins. As pointed out by Jenny Palan, of Kerry Taste & Nutrition, “The challenge of matching animal protein muscle formation using plant proteins can be achieved by leveraging technologies like extrusion to encourage plant proteins to behave like animal proteins at the microscopic level.”


Living by the flexitarian diet gives one the benefits of attaining the proper nutrition from plant-based foods and meat. Though it can be argued that meat has certain benefits in terms of the absorbability of heme iron, proteins can be attained through both food groups. On the plant-based side, companies are being creative in what sources they are using, like navy beans and walnuts. Their research and development teams are continually working on refining taste, texture and potency. It may be said that we are merely on the cusp of seeing what the plant-based market will introduce in terms of protein sources.



Steven Genack
Steven Genack has worked at OU Kosher for more than ten years with a specialty in ingredients. He is an attorney and former editor of a newspaper. He has a wide array of interests including playing tennis, golf and basketball and reading biographies and memoirs.