CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT STAFF
A Virginia State University food scientist recently received a $274,500 USDA grant to explore the effects of high-pressure processing on the manufacture of highly nutritious hemp protein suitable for human consumption.
Dr. Yixiang Xu of the University of Petersburg Agricultural Research Station is collaborating on the study with Dr. GuiBing Chen, a food engineer at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
Hemp protein is 98% digestible and contains 20 amino acids, allowing the body to use these building blocks to repair and maintain cells more efficiently, according to a statement from VSU. Hemp protein also contains nine diet-dependent essential fatty acids.
The body cannot manufacture these amino and fatty acids, despite their importance in physiological processes, according to VSU.
These are important for cell maintenance, cardiovascular health, regulation of metabolic and inflammatory processes, and brain development and function.
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With few exceptions, hemp protein provides significantly more amino acids than soy protein and dairy protein, according to the college.
Yet, to date, hemp has not responded well to processing methods for its production as a food source.
Researchers hope to solve this problem with a new processing method called high-pressure processing, a “non-thermal” food preservation technique that uses pressure rather than heat to perform pasteurization, according to the Institute of Food Technologists.
Xu and Chen will study how the process affects the taste, nutrition and other key qualities of hemp protein.
With growing demand for plant-based proteins, this research could prove invaluable with broad benefits for hemp growers, manufacturers and other industries, as well as consumers, according to the VSU release.
The federal grant will support the project through 2023, also providing students with research-based learning opportunities.