Protein in the house
Protein remains a massive draw in the BFY beverage category. It provides satiety, aids weight management, contributes to muscle growth, and improves muscle recovery after exercise. The powerful plant protein trend, driven by health and ecological needs, has moved plant protein sources to the mainstream. Beverage makers continue to develop new plant-based protein beverages to answer this demand.

Although soy protein remains the leading plant protein in formulations, other legumes are making beverage waves. Pea and chickpea proteins are particularly popular and well-suited for beverage applications, having good solubility and a better flavor profile than many other plant-based proteins. In addition, pea protein production consumes less land and water resources than many other protein sources, which improves its appeal to consumers.

Made primarily from yellow peas, pea protein is available in powder form and, mixed with water, is easily used as a substitute for its dairy counterparts. One disadvantage, however, is a tendency for some pea protein products to have a slightly chalky texture, making the ingredient best suited for thicker beverages.

Nut, grain, and seed protein sources also are becoming increasingly favored for beverages. Chia, hemp, almond, walnut, coconut, rice, and like sources all are vying for their plant-protein position in many of today’s beverage formulations. Some, such as the tree nut proteins, come with allergen considerations, but others readily suit allergen-free formulations.

Dairy time
Dairy proteins, especially whey, remain highly favored for non-vegetarian health beverages, especially those that are dairy-based (think: so-called “muscle” milks). The whey protein powders available have such purity that their bioavailability is ranked at the top of the PDCASS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) chart.

A recent innovation in protein development is a fermentation-created protein. It is made through microbial extraction and in vitro nurturing with a plant-based nutrient solution to produce true milk proteins in volume. The process is streamlined and both time- and cost-effective compared to the extraction processes used to derive animal- or plant-based proteins.

This process produces the protein in mere hours, and the feedstock is an industrial byproduct, making its production sustainable both monetarily and ecologically. The resulting product is a neutrally flavored, white, creamy protein with a complete essential amino acid profile and a nutrition panel similar to that of whey and casein isolates. In addition, a tablespoon of this fermented protein powder is high in iron, vitamin B12, and riboflavin.

This ingredient’s nutrition density can help consumers who are focused on a plant-based diet reach daily nutrition goals with a naturally derived, clean-label product. Potential applications include protein drink powders and RTD beverages. Studies focused on functionality also prove the protein’s versatility in replacing certain gums and stabilizers, offering clean-label alternatives to texturizers and stabilizers in beverages. Currently in the pilot stage, full-scale production and GRAS status approval are expected sometime next year.

— Anne-marie Ramo is a Seattle-based research chef and food writer with more than 25 years of experience in flavor development. She was director of culinary development for Revolution Foods Inc., executive chef of Fork in the Road Foods, LLC, and executive chef for Aidell’s Sausage Co. Ramo is a regular industry contributor and writer, and co-authored The Great Meat Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Read more of her articles at You may contact her at

Not your grandma’s sleepy time 
Popular botanicals for sleep and relaxation include chamomile (Matricaria recutita or Chamaemelum nobile), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), jasmine (Jasminum sambac), ginseng (Panax ginseng), ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), and hops (Humulus lupulus).

Up-and-coming botanicals that possess sleep benefits (and could already be considered GRAS based on their traditional use in food) include California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), jujube (Ziziphus jujuba), and linden. Also rising fast in the market for calming beverages are the cannabinoids, including cannabinol (CBN), the most sedating of the non-psychoactive cannabinoids.

While most of these herbs are available in powder and extract forms, care should be taken when selecting a CBN product. Aside from the fact that cannabis ingredients are not yet universally legal in the US, the technology used to extract, distill, or otherwise release these compounds from the plant is still evolving, and some products can be cost-prohibitive or inconsistent. However, the technology for water-dispersible cannabinoids has now been refined to an extent that it can offer beverage developers an easier way to infuse CBN into their drinks.