As the world focuses on sustainability and restoring our biodiversity, The Leaf Protein Co. is doing its part to provide a solution. We talked with Fern Ho, founder and CEO, to find out more about the initiative and the company’s work with sustainable plant proteins.
We’re passionate about creating a new category of sustainable plant proteins – leaf protein – which has been scientifically researched to be Earth’s most abundant source of protein.
Despite the sky-rocketing demand for plant-based foods, there are only four types of plant protein available today: wheat, rice, soy, and pulse proteins. Food companies predominantly use only two of these – soy and wheat – which unfortunately an increasing number of consumers are allergic to. Together with these food intolerances, there’s also increasing consumer interest in food provenance and the impact of our food system on the environment.
So we’re excited about bringing our leaf protein ingredients to market as they’re free from the major plant allergens, not genetically modified, and can be grown sustainably while helping regenerate degraded farmland.
Our mission to provide environmentally sustainable plant ingredients means we use perennial plants as our leaf protein sources. Perennials have a root system that doesn’t die out, so they can be kept in the ground and don't require replanting, unlike many conventional crops. This means it provides ongoing ground cover to maintain the nutrients in our soil for better soil fertility.
It also aids in sequestering more carbon back into the earth, which is the largest carbon sinkhole we have – an important part of fighting climate change.
Our focus is on the sustainable extraction of RuBisCo, i.e. the leaf protein, from green leaves, and investing in the biotechnology and research and development that enables this process. So we partner with growers and farmers who harvest the fresh leaves from which we apply our extraction methods to sustainably produce our leaf protein concentrate and isolate ingredients.
Food companies and manufacturers can then use our leaf protein ingredients to make plant-based meats, dairy alternatives, protein shakes, and other plant-based foods and beverages.
As we develop our sources of leaf protein, we use plants that are native to local geographies so we don’t have to adversely change local ecosystems for optimal growth. We also select plants that can grow in arid conditions with low water requirements, or help with soil desalination, which is a huge problem for many farms that have grown conventional crops.
We’re currently focused on using halophytes. These can grow in very saline soil that most farmers consider “unproductive” land because conventional crops can’t survive there. The benefit of growing halophytes on such land is that it helps to rebalance the water table and reduce soil salinity so other crops can start to grow again.
Unfortunately the short-term economics of biodiversity is not particularly attractive and so it's not surprising that our food biodiversity hasn’t really improved over the last 10 years.
A 1999 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assessed that 75% of the world’s food is generated from 12 plants and five animal species. Twenty years on, a 2019 report – also from the UN FAO – assessed that our major food systems still only rely on a handful of crops: nine crops account for 66% of total global crop production.
The good news is the increasing awareness of consumers, particularly in wealthier nations. We’ve already started to see a significant rise in people actively choosing more plant-based options for health and environmental reasons, and it looks like this trend will continue with our next generation.