A tasty degree project

Linn Tsang dreams of starting a company offering Swedish vegan ice cream made with protein from sweet lupin. She learned to extract protein during her degree project at SLU.

“It would be super cool if we could get the ice cream into the grocery stores. As far as I know, no one is offering Swedish vegan ice cream”, Linn says.

For Linn, this is about offering something sustainable in the ice cream market because she's passionate about sustainability. She has always tried to go her own way, thinking about self-employment.

“It feels pretty scary before you get started, because what will this mean for my life? In the long run, I think I will be happiest if I get to run my own race and do what I’m passionate about”.

Searching for entrepreneurial solutions

For the past two summers, Linn has sold bouquets of flowers as a hobby and thinks it has been fun and creative.

“I live in Ulleråker, which is quite close to Ultuna in Uppsala. People here are super excited to buy locally. The only thing I've done is put out buckets of bouquets in my courtyard with a sign how to pay and a price.

The bouquets of flowers come from her own allotment.

“I can easily spend ten hours out on the allotment, it doesn't bother me. I’m like a fish in water out there. I'm really a nature person. Being out there working with something that I really enjoy is worth its weight in gold.”

From farm to table

It was in connection with her degree project that she slipped into sweet lupin and lupin ice cream.

“I was looking for a farm to table project and preferably with legumes. I knew my supervisor Marcos Lana was using lupin and soy when I contacted him. He were super excited to make ice cream from lupin.”

Linn says they were pretty strict about the quality. It had be Swedish, organic and vegan for sustainability reasons. They knew that it was possible to make lupin ice cream because there is a company in Germany already doing it.

“No one in Sweden has done it, so it was new to us. I started reading up on various recipes I could find online. Food geek that I am, I got a good recipe going already on my second try. I got inspiration for flavours from my allotment where I had raspberries, strawberries and elderberry.”

Lupin – made for ice cream

The process of making lupin ice cream begins with extracting protein from lupin beans in the lab. Specifically, the lupin beans are crushed into a fine flour that is dissolved in water. The flour is then filtered out and the protein precipitated.

“It's surprisingly easy in theory, but precipitating the protein in practice requires access to the right technology, such as centrifuges, otherwise you have to wait for many days for it to slowly sink to the bottom. You use quite a lot of water and the size of the containers to hold all the flour and water can limit where you can be", says Linn.

Since the lupin protein is a good emulsion, it has the ability to bind the ice cream together in the same way that eggs would. The lupin protein is incredibly stable and foams quite a lot, which means that it is good to use in plant-based milk, for example.

New product creates opportunities for growers

One of the challenges today is that not many farmers grow sweet lupin. There is a handful of growers in Skåne who sell to Nordisk Råvara, among others, from who Linn bought the beans. They sell the beans as is.

“The lupin bean can be eaten just like peas, broad beans and soy. What we grow in Sweden comes in two varieties. One variety is white and has the size of a pea and the other is almost black and a little speckled”, Linn says.

If there’s going to be a market for this, companies and growers need to work together and create opportunities”, Linn believes. It is about the companies getting hold of the raw material and that there is a demand for the growers.

Innovation support from SLU Holding

After her degree project, Linn contacted SLU Holding for support to develop her business concept. SLU Holding has contributed in various ways.

“Together we have looked at the potential of my idea and a patent lawyer has studied the possibility of patenting the extraction technique. I’ve also received VFT funding to finance a test for a large protein extraction in the protein factory in Alnarp. That has been very valuable because it would be extremely expensive otherwise to do privately”, Linn says.

The extraction in the protein factory resulted in seven kg of protein. Linn had previously established contact with Joel Lindqvist, the 2014 dessert master, in connection with a network meeting for entrepreneurs and growers of local legumes. Through Joel, she was offered to come and test the protein for free in a live ice cream production at an ice cream parlour in Stockholm.

“There's a lot of maths and chemistry behind ice cream that you have no idea about. Everything from sugar content, texture, ingredients and freezing point, etc. That's something I must get into for the next stage to improve and produce a good lupin ice cream", Linn says.

Next for Linn will be to check out opportunities for starting a business.

“It's about calculating and planning what I would need to get started, such as premises, machines, writing a business plan. A business plan is important to have in order to talk to investors because ice cream production is pretty “straightforward” but protein extraction requires some potentially expensive investment", Linn.

VFT funds

Researchers, students and employees of SLU can apply for funding from Vinnova’s validation programme VFT through SLU Holding. The funding is to develop and validate innovative ideas and research findings.

VFT has been created to streamline the process to allow knowledge from universities to come to use in society in the form of products and services, or through other forms of utilisation.

Funds are applied for in consultation with an innovation and business advisor from SLU Holding.


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