Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. –Maya Angelou
As part of the recent reformulation and relaunch of our handcrafted nut butter bars, we made several changes intended to improve their taste, texture, shelf-life, nutritional value, and sustainability. Of these changes, one of the most significant was the switch from grass-fed whey protein to a non-GMO pea protein.
We did not take the reformulation of our bars lightly. In fact, we don’t take any ingredient or recipe choice lightly. In the case of our bars, the development of the new recipes involved a slow, deliberate process that began more than two years ago. We tested dozens of different protein options before settling on this particular type of yellow pea-based powder. We experimented with proteins made from flax, rice, pumpkin, almonds, hemp, and others, as well as several variations of each. Most of the proteins had textures and/or tastes that did not meet our standards, but we remained vigilant until we landed on one with a clean flavor and just the amount of plant-based protein boost we wanted. As a result, we are now making better-tasting, more nutritious bars than ever.
Taking a step back to the early days of our business, it took us a long time to locate a source of grass-fed, hormone-free whey protein that we felt good about from environmental and animal welfare perspectives. When we found it, it was very exciting, and we able to scale up production of the bars we were making primarily for ourselves and a few farmers market customers. However, as our business grew, we became aware of some quality issues explicitly related to whey that we needed to address.
- The all-natural whey we were using does not age particularly well. After 4-5 months, it starts to develop a slight off flavor.
- Whey accelerated oxidation, making the bars become more crumbly and less flavorful than they should have been.
Also, working more closely with our whey producer, we started to learn a lot more about the nature of whey protein production. There is a misconception that whey is “less processed” than all pea-based proteins. Whey protein is made via the draining of liquid milk through a filtration system. The material that is left after this draining process is known as whey protein concentrate and is dried to form a variety of protein supplements. This concentrate contains varying degrees of the disaccharide lactose – the sugar present in milk – which contributes to the wide range of total calorie amounts in whey protein supplements. Removing the lactose requires heavy processing and the formation of “whey isolate,” and that is a level of additional processing we were not willing to pursue, so our whey-based bars were not compatible with people avoiding lactose.
From an environmental footprint perspective, the costs of whey are staggering, and we learned this only after working with it more closely. It takes roughly 2000 gallons of fresh water to produce a single gallon of milk. Then, it takes approximately 25 gallons of milk to make 1.5 pounds of whey protein powder. That’s 33,333 gallons of fresh water to produce 1 pound of whey protein powder! On top of that, the methane released from dairy cows is substantial; last year, methane from livestock accounted for 39 percent of all the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, with dairy cows accounting for 45% of that. This type of methane from livestock is responsible for 18% of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes, and all other forms of transport put together.
About our pea protein powder: The peas are grown organically by farmers in the northern U.S. and Canada. These yellow peas are a “dry crop” and require little to no irrigation. The harvested peas are dried and shipped to our vendor’s manufacturing facility, where they are milled into a fine powder. The powder is immersed in water (which is reused), and then a centrifuge mechanically separates the proteins from the starches and fibers. Then, to improve flavor, texture, and functionality, the protein is treated only with organic food-grade enzymes and citric acid. The result is an incredibly nutritious, clean-tasting protein that we genuinely love. Some pea proteins, (like most soy proteins) are treated with harmful chemicals or submerged in petroleum-based hexane. Also, our pea protein has a 98% digestibility rating, making its nutrients more bioavailable and an ideal option for fueling one’s body throughout the day without having to worry about digestive complications.
Finally, circling back to animal welfare, this is an area that we’ve also learned more about while working more closely with whey. While we could vouch for the relatively better animal welfare behind our whey versus most whey, the whole process is still much further away from nature than we’d prefer, e.g. mechanically milking cows until they are about four years old (when they become meat), treating male calves as “byproducts” that typically become veal, and separating calves from mothers prematurely, causing both animals lots of stress. Just as we do our best to use only “cruelty-free” cleaning and personal care products at our headquarters, we also constantly try to make sure our supply chain is as cruelty-free as possible.
For all of these reasons related to quality, sustainability, and animal welfare, we have discontinued products containing whey and now offer bars made with a pea protein under our same exacting standards of handcrafted production. We hope you love our new bars as much as we do! Thanks, as always, for your support.