Vitafoods Insights is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Yeastup: Extracting three functional ingredients from one sidestream

Article-Yeastup: Extracting three functional ingredients from one sidestream

© Yeastup Yeastin_products_.RSpng_.png
Swiss startup Yeastup uses a patented mechanical-enzymatic extraction process to produce upcycled protein, beta-glucan, and mannan fibre from brewer’s spent yeast.

Founded in 2020 in by Daniel Gnos and Urs Briner, Yeastup makes a vegan protein with an amino acid profile similar to egg white and two polysaccharide fibres, beta-glucan and mannan, from brewer’s spent yeast.

The ingredients – trademarked as Yeastin for the protein and UpFiber for the mannan and beta-glucan fibres – can be declared as “protein from yeast” or “fibre from yeast” on an ingredient list.

According to co-founder Briner, Yeastin protein “sets new vegan standards” for alternative proteins thanks to its essential amino acid and branched chain amino acid content. The protein also has a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of one, putting it on a par with animal proteins such as egg and whey, the company says.

“The protein is very high quality; you can compare it with egg white protein. So, it has the same biological value [as] an animal-based protein, but it's completely vegan,” Briner told Vitafoods Insights.

The protein is soluble, meaning it can be used in shakes and drinks, and has a neutral, umami flavour (although the umami notes can be removed for flavour-sensitive or non-savoury applications).

It also has functional properties such as gelling and emulsifying, which makes it interesting for meat and dairy alternative brands interested in shortening their ingredient lists and replacing artificial additives.

The beta-glucan fibre has diverse nutraceutical applications. Beta-glucan, barley-derived beta-glucan, and oat-derived beta glucan enjoy several authorised health claims in Europe, namely for maintaining normal blood cholesterol levels; reducing the blood glucose spike after a meal; and lowering blood cholesterol.

Some research suggests it can improve the immune system, although there are no authorised health claims in Europe relating to immune health.

Mannan, meanwhile, is a functional ingredient and can be used as an emulsifier, thickener, and stabiliser to improve product texture and consistency. The fact that it forms a highly viscous substance when in contact with liquids makes it ideal as a fat substitute in foods, the startup says.

Three high-value ingredients from one low-value sidestream

According to Briner, what sets the company apart from competitors is that it can extract three high-value ingredients from one sidesteam in an industrially scalable way.

“We are not using propagated yeast; we are actually using brewer’s spent yeast, which is a sidestream from the brewing industry,” he said. “And that gives us the ability to generate a protein with 74% less CO2 needed, compared to the production of pea protein. That's what we call ‘the next level of ingredients’ because it's healthier and more sustainable.”

(The startup conducted a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) at the FHNW Institute for Ecopreneurship to evaluate its process and compare its ingredients with pea and beef protein.)

Briner, who was previously general manager at IBM’s Global Business Services Europe before becoming an entrepreneur, described Yeastup’s manufacturing technique as a cell-based extraction process – yeast is a single cell, not a plant – that combines both mechanical and enzymatic methods.

It first “breaks open” the cell without destroying it and removes the soluble proteins before extracting the polysaccharides, mannan, and beta-glucan from the cell walls, he said.

While the yeast could be eaten in its whole form, isolating the three ingredients is useful for food manufacturers, Briner explained.

The application range is much bigger than when you just bring a compound of mixture on to the market and say: ‘This is for a meat alternative, take it or leave it,’” he told Vitafoods Insights at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit in Paris last month.

We have isolated ingredients and we work with the industry [using] an iterative approach: you want to do something that has very strong texturising capability? You can combine our protein with more fibres. But when you want to have, let's say, a pure protein shake [that is] completely liquid, then you don't want to have the fibres in it. We give the industry the ability to work with us […] on specific applications.”

Sports nutrition category has the biggest potential

The startup has already collaborated with manufacturers to produce several food products, including with a dairy processor to make a cheese alternative and a plant-based meat alternative manufacturer. It has also signed letters of intent with cosmetic brands.

However, it sees the greatest potential for its ingredient in the sports nutrition category, where consumers are willing to pay a price premium for ingredients.

“We are going first off to the segments that have the highest value – and that's clearly the sports industry – because there the impact on muscle and cell growth is so important,” he said. “They want to have a high-quality alternative protein and they are paying for it. And there we are at the price level of whey protein.”

The ingredients are not considered to be novel foods and so Yeastup has a clear path to commercialisation as soon as it scales up production, which is slated for the second half of this year. It is currently fitting out its first factory in Switzerland to produce around 800 tons a year.

In the future, Briner said it may consider licensing its technology but, for the moment, this is not on the cards.  

Asked why it chose to keep operations in Switzerland – an expensive country for a small startup – Briner said: “It's not that expensive if you're smart. And the reason why we went to Switzerland is not just because we are Swiss. It's mainly because we found a production site that suits our process perfectly. The amount of CapEx we had to invest there [was] absolutely minimal.

“But our expansion plan is clearly going into other locations in Europe, and we are mainly looking at companies that want to transform their production – classical dairy production-type companies – because they are so critical in mass. They are best suited for our process to expand.”