Extraction and evaluation of functional proteins and polyphenols from sunflower flour


Sustainable use of sunflowers

Close up of sunflower
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Logo of ITAL
Funding logo federal ministry of education and research (BMBF)

The demand for plant proteins and vegetable oil for both human consumption and bioenergy production is increasing globally. As a result, there is an increased demand for oil plants, which contain a high oil content as well as proteins valuable for human consumption. Germany and Brazil currently represent important markets for vegetable oils in the food sector. At present, soybeans are primarily grown in Brazil for the production of vegetable oil. Due to the need for more diversified raw materials, sunflowers are an interesting alternative and could be optimally used for the increasing cultivation areas of plant oil in Brazil thanks to their drought resistance.

In a previous research project (SunflowerProtein – Sustainable cultivation and innovative processing of sunflower seeds), sustainable sunflower production combined with complete utilization of all fractions obtained from sunflower seeds has already been achieved. Procedures have been developed to produce both sunflower oil and sunflower protein as well as fuels from the sunflower seeds. This has strengthened the global need for sustainable management of our resources, through both responsible use of limited arable land and sustainable and holistic utilization of the crop.

One obstacle facing the suitability of the high-protein sunflower flour as a food ingredient was the still insufficient protein content of 55% and the protein solubility, which is limited to 40%. For the production of appealing beverages, dairy substitutes, meat alternatives or sports nutrition, which are the largest market segments for plant-based proteins ​​, further process development is required to obtain ingredients with at least 75% protein content and high solubility. The procedures described in the relevant literature for the extraction of protein isolates are not sustainable due to the use of additives and high amounts of water, and as a result of large amounts of wastewater with a high organic load being produced.

An innovative procedure enables the efficient extraction of sunflower ingredients

The aim of »SmartProSun« is to develop a sustainable procedure for the extraction of three sunflower fractions:

1.    Highly soluble sunflower protein ingredient with >75% protein content

2.    Protein concentrate with high fiber content

3.    Polyphenol concentrate

By closing the water cycle, recycling and filtering the wastewater, the consumption of process water and the use of additives are minimized.

Sustainable procedure for highly functional protein ingredients and polyphenol concentrates

Fraunhofer IVV is developing procedures for fractionating and recovering the above listed ingredients from deoiled sunflower flour for the production of customized food ingredients. The procedure is designed in such a way that the ingredients not only have an optimal composition of the ingredients protein, fat, ash, fiber (cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin-like substances) and total polyphenols, but are also characterized by excellent functional properties. High emulsifying capacity, gel formation, excellent foaming properties and a bright color of the protein-rich fraction are the main features. The application of the developed fractions is being tested for use in sensory appealing responsive dairy alternatives, bakery products, vegan meat alternatives, beverages, and protein bars. The bioactive properties of the peptides, proteins and polyphenols obtained, such as antihypertensive, antidiabetic, antimicrobial and antioxidant activity, are being studied by the Brazilian research partner ITAL.

After testing the economic feasibility, sensory acceptance and market potential of the developed food ingredients, the realization phase of the innovative approach will be initiated using the synergies of the German-Brazilian cooperation. To achieve this goal, industry project partners will be involved as participants along the production chain. The findings will be transferred to new production sites in Europe and Brazil to create new jobs in the growing plant protein market.


Project term:

01.04.2020 to 31.03.2023

Project management
/project funding:

Project Management Jülich in the Research Center Jülich GmbH (PTJ)
/Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

Previous project (2014 to 2017):

SunflowerProtein – Sustainable cultivation and innovative processing of sunflower seeds