California startup TerViva recently secured $20 million in funding to help bring new plant-based foods, derived from the seeds of the Pongamia tree, to market. The carbon-fixing tree (also known as “vertical soy”) produces seeds with a high protein content but have not been cultivated for human consumption because they contain anti-nutrients. TerViva discovered a way to remove those negative components and successfully turn the seeds into plant-based protein, oil, and vegan milk. “On the protein side, the protein—being in the legume family—has some analogous types of protein you’d see in pea and soy and some others, but what we see is really strong gelling and emulsification properties,” TerViva founder and CEO Naveen Sikka told Foodnavigator USA. “We’ve recently made a Pongamia milk that has a terrific mouthfeel because of that emulsification capability, and the protein content is quite high relative to nut milks. We’re 10 times what you’d see in almond milk. For human nutrition, it’s an ideal replacement for soybeans.” The company has planted 150,000 Pongamia trees in collaboration with farmers in various states, including a number of Florida citrus farmers, and plans to add an additional 200,000 trees using its recent investment. “Consumption of plant-based proteins and oils is growing rapidly, but the amount of arable land to grow these crops is increasingly limited,” Sikka said. “We’ve developed a sustainable, market-driven approach for farmers to profit off marginal land by cultivating trees that can feed the planet.”

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