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Food innovation

Scientists in China successfully extract green tea leaf protein which could be used in the plant-based F&B sector

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2 min read
AUTHOR: Fiona Holland
Cherry blossom tea garden on the top of the mountain

Researchers from Fuzhou University in China have developed improved methods for extracting protein from green tea leaf residue.

The university is located in the Fujian province in the southern region of the country, which is home to some of the world’s most renowned tea plantations.

While China consumes large amounts of soy and wheat-based proteins as well as meat, the researchers say this latest discovery will help to increase the variety of protein in people’s diets.

“What makes the research significant is that we expanded the categories of raw materials used for alternative protein production,” explained Zhang Chen, Associate Professor at Fuzhou University’s Institute of Food and Technology in an interview with South China Morning Post.

As the country relies on Western imports for much of its alternative proteins, commercialising the tea-based protein ingredients would be better for China’s economy and the environment, Chen adds. Producing the protein costs between ¥2000-3000 (approximately £230-£350) per tonne, which around half the price of producing the same amount of soy-bean protein, he says.

The potential scalability of tea leaf protein has been known for decades, but producers have been put off by the non cost-effective extraction process up until now. Through a variety of research carried out over the past decade, Chen says scientists have been able to develop a more efficient extraction method by altering the alkaline conditions used in the process, and by finding a way to recycle the sodium salts produced during extraction into fertiliser.

Approximately one tonne of tea waste can create around 400kg of tea leaf protein, according to Chen. Once processed, the ingredient looks like a brown powder and tastes like tea.

The intense flavour means the ingredient could be limited for now to tea beverages for commercialisation, but more time and research could allow the protein to be used in plant-based meat in the future, he concludes.

Last year, the Good Food Institute gave $300,000 in grant funding to the project, to help the scientists carry out their research and eventually commercialise the protein.

China’s alternative protein sector has witnessed a period of huge acceleration and development since 2020, as a result of large sums of investment coming into the sector.

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