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Norwegian firm uses natural approach to extract amino acids, short peptides from salmon waste

By Hank Schultz

Last updated on 16-May-2014 at 17:07 GMT2014-05-16T17:07:11Z

Zymtech's production plant.

Zymtech's production plant.

Finding value in waste streams has been a consistent story in the development of active ingredients. One of the latest examples of the trend comes from Zymtech Group, a Norwegian company that is extracting a protein ingredient from the waste streams of Atlantic salmon production. 

The idea had its origins in the Russian space program, said managing director Steinar Kristjansson.  The Soviet government was seeking a way to more efficiently deliver protein to cosmonauts, to construct a sort of superfood that would be healthful as well as cheap to boost into space.  Russian scientists developed a way to extract the proteins, and break them down into free amino acids and short peptides, but they were unable to scale up the process beyond the lab bench stage.

Commercial scale

After the end of the Soviet Union the idea made its way to Norway where the R&D team at Zymtech’s plant in Lesja (close to where the wild salmon are processed) found a way to scale up the process. The result is a commercial scale ingredient that takes a natural approach toward amino acid production, Kristjansson said.  The company recently announced self-affirmed GRAS status for the ingredient in the US.

“Our process uses the natural enzymes in the fish to break down the protein into shorter chain molecules.  We use the waste stream from the Atlantic salmon fishery.  The protein is predigested, if you will.  So it’s a clean source and it’s a clean process,” Kristjansson said.

According to Zymtech’s fact sheets, the resulting ingredient, branded as Amizate, contains all of the essential and nonessential amino acids—26 in all.  And it includes a suite of short-chain peptides as well as vitamins and minerals.  About 60% of the ingredient consists of amino acids in free form with the other 40% given over to the short chain peptides, which Kristjansson said are a key part of the ingredient’s value message, that being the speed of absorption.

Pedal to the metal

“I’m selling a Ferrari. I want to emphasize the speed. If you are just trying to go from A to B, a Fiat will get you there. So a clinical study measuring results over a long period of time won’t show that benefit. If you supplement with any protein over a long enough time you will show some results,” Kristjansson told NutraIngredients-USA at the recent Vitafoods trade show in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The speed of absorption and the digestibility will have some great benefits for things like sarcopenia.  So we are looking at a possible medical food application as well as dietary supplements,” he said.

Kristjansson said the ingedient has potential in sports nutrition in particular.  Consumers in the space tend to be better educated about a product’s purported benefits are are seeking certain attributes to match their goals.

“We think the protein could have some real possibilities in sports nutrition, because of the speed of absorption. Athletes need quick recovery,”  he said. 

Dealing with odor

Kristjansson had samples of  trial runs of the ingredient in tablets and a drink sachet with him at Vitafoods. Neither delivery form showed any sort of objectionable odor. But dealing with that potential drawback—the Achilles heel of all marine ingredients when they seek to step beyond soft gels and capsules—remains a challenge. The big opportunity in sports nutriton is, after all, getting the ingredient into the big tubs of pre- and postworkout products, where consumers mix up their own batches and tubs might remain unsealed for many days before being fully consumed. This gives oxygen a long time to work on any ingredients in the mix that might have volatile components. 

“The odor is a challenging issue. So we we are looking at ways around that,” Kristjansson said.

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