The majority of people have a bag of vegetables in their freezer that have essentially turned into an unrecognizable block of ice crystals. Additionally, meals ruined by too much ice lose their texture and become mushy when thawed. Now, scientists have demonstrated in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry of the American Chemical Society that soy proteins that have been broken down can inhibit the creation of ice crystals and may be particularly helpful for preserving biological samples or frozen vegan foods. Some animals that live in extremely cold environments, such as fish in the deep polar oceans, make antifreeze proteins to keep the liquid in their bodies from freezing.
These proteins slow down ice crystal formation and growth, a process that has piqued the interest of the frozen food industry. Recently, researchers discovered that some peptides, which are pieces of broken-down proteins, can also slow ice crystal growth. However, all of the edible peptides tested so far have come from animal sources, including fish, pigs, and chickens.
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So, Tong Wang, Madison Fomich, and colleagues at the University of Tennessee wanted to see if breaking down plant proteins could generate similar compounds with ice-crystal-inhibiting properties. The team generated peptides from a commercially available soy protein isolate powder by exposing it to three different hydrolyzing enzymes: Alcalase, pancreatin, and trypsin. Each resulting mixture of peptides was also separated by size into multiple fractions.
All of the mixtures slowed ice growth in tests, but the ones produced from alcalde and trypsin were better inhibitors than those from pancreatin. For all three enzymes, most of the activity came from the fraction with the largest peptides. The large-size fractions also ended up including some smaller peptides, which on their own didn’t keep ice crystals from growing; however, the team showed that these small compounds boosted the activity. This study is an initial step toward using soy-derived peptides as a natural, effective way to reduce the ice growth that can lead to freezer burn and thereby increase the shelf life of frozen goods, including vegan and vegetarian products, the researchers say.
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