AN INTRODUCTION TO THE POWDERS
Pea Protein Pow is an wonderful all-round protein powder. You wouldn’t know it if you go by first impressions though! Because, when you smell it for the first time, you immediately get hit with a strong smell of ‘FOOD.’ It smells savory and kind of like peas (which is, I guess, not surprising). For this reason, using it as a base for a protein shake is not the hottest of ideas. It’s not because it’s savory that I think it’s not that great in shakes, it’s because its flavor is not strong enough to stand on its own. Couple it with something else though – sweet OR savory – and you’ve got yourself an extremely versatile powder. You can use pea protein powder to make creamy protein sauces, protein soups, protein patties, crepes, savory pancakes, and breads. You can also use it to make protein muffins, protein cupcakes, protein cookies and protein bars! Pea protein powder gives a wonderful bready texture to baked goods. For this reason, it’s one of the best flour-replacing powders.
Hemp is high in omega 3 and fibre. It’s also great alongside chocolate. I’m a big fan but most people actually aren’t. That’s because it tastes kind of beh if you have it as the basis to a shake – it tastes like… grass. So I ‘mask’ it by making protein truffles, cakes, chocolates, and brownies – basically anything and everything that I can overwhelm with the power of cocoa. I also sometimes use hemp protein powder in savory pancakes. The thing with hemp is that, like pea, rice, and to a lesser extent casein, it absorbs a lot of liquid. That means that, when you use it, you have to use a lot of egg whites, cottage cheese, quark and/or milk to ensure you don’t end up with a dry mix that looks like you should plant something inside it. When you mix hemp with milk and eggs, you get a thicker mix that you can then confidently bake with knowledge that your final product will most likely be nice and moist :-)
Like whey, casein is a dairy-based powder. It belongs to the same family as whey but acts totally differently in food. You’ll notice this as soon as you mix it with water or milk to make a protein pudding or shakes – your mixture will be thicker and considerably creamier than it would if you’d added the same quantity of whey. Because of its liquid-absorbing qualities, I love to use casein in protein puddings, protein bars, protein flans and cakes. It’s also great to bake with, maybe even more so than whey. That’s because, unlike whey, casein has less of a tendency to dry your baked goods. Instead, it adds a thicker and breadier texture to them. One of favorite ways of using casein is in protein frostings frostings. I am convinced it is by far the best frosting-making powder.
Ever since I discovered Growing Naturals, I’m kind of over the moon because cooking with sweetened brown rice protein powder (chocolate AND vanilla) yields delicious cakes and cookies. I mention them specifically because they’re one of the only brands that offer flavored rice protein powder. Don’t ask me why; I have no idea. If you can’t find a sweetened powder though, you can use unflavored brown rice protein powder and use that instead by either sweetening it yourself or by making savory foods with it like protein breads and even soups. The thing you have to bear in mind with brown rice protein powder though is that it’s naturally very ‘chalky’ so you have to account for this in your mixtures by adding enough ‘moisturizing’ and ‘bulking’ ingredients. As with most powders of this kind though (the kind that absorb liquids, like pea, hemp, or casein), you have to be careful to not use waaaay too much of it because, if you do, brown rice protein powder can make your foods too dense.
The egg white protein powder you find in the baking aisle of supermarkets is usually sold in small packs. It’s intended for the making of meringues, mousse, and other desserts that require the use of whipped egg whites. Egg White Powder bought in bulk though, from protein stores for example, is not exactly the same. For one, it doesn’t meringue like the other stuff does – it never gets any soft (let alone hard) peaks. It also tends to be flavored and marketed as a substitute for whey to people who may be intolerant to lactose. Used as the basis to a protein shake, egg white protein powder is N-A-S-T-Y. Used in baking though? It’s actually quite cool! Because you can just ‘reconstitute’ it into regular egg whites and use it for regular baking. You can also use egg white protein powder to make omelets (as long as it’s unflavored!), protein porridge, and/or just throw it into your next protein pancakes for an extra protein baaaam!
Out of all the protein powders, whey is probably the most popular. It’s tasty, has a smashing nutritional profile, is easy to find (most health-food stores stock it), convenient (to drink in shake form), and it’s great to cook with. A lot of people are scared to bake with whey, though, mobilizing a kind of horror scenario involving “denaturing” to argue against even trying. That’s why one of the first things I like to do when people start out protein baking is have them learn what denaturing actually is (see below). Once people learn what denaturing actually IS and what it DOES, well, then all kinds of great things come to life! Most whey protein powder (and I say most because there’s also goat whey protein powder) is made from cow’s milk. It’s ‘dairyish’ in taste and, for this reason, it’s commonly used as the basis to a protein shake. When cooking whey, you have to be very careful though because it has the potential to overpower your foods and turn them extremely dry, carboardlike and rubbery. To counter whey’s ‘drying potential’, what you need to do is make sure that you use a lot of what I like to call ‘moisturizing’ ingredients. These are things like pumpkin puree, bananas, cooked sweet potato, cottage cheese, yogurt, quark, and/or whole eggs. You can use whey for all kinds of things besides shakes. You can, for example, use it to make protein cheesecake, protein cakes, protein flan/custards or glorious oh so glorious protein fluff!
A few years ago, I saw an ad for beef protein powder and thought “NO WAY!” because, well… REALLY? Part of me was horrified at the idea in the context of “come ON, who would rather not just EAT the beef!?” and “now THAT must taste… ‘interesting'” but another part of me was totally and absolutely mesmerized at the idea “I wonder if you can make a cake with it or turn it into…” So I bought a tub and, guess what? the stuff is phenomenal! IT’s actually a great substitute for whey protein in baking and useful for those who may, for whatever reason, be avoiding dairy. You can find beef protein powder unflavored, in chocolate, or in vanilla and I have to say that they’re all pretty good. I know, the idea of ‘vanilla’ beef protein powder sounds odd but… trust me, it works!
ABOUT COOKING WITH PROTEIN POWDER AND DENATURING
One of the most pervasive myths surrounding protein powders is that COOKING protein powder IRREVOCABLY DAMAGES it because it DENATURES it. It’s incredible, the sheer power of the idea that, by denaturing protein powder (i.e. by baking or cooking it in any form), the protein becomes ‘damaged’ and useless. I’m sure you’ve run into this idea before. I know I have, more times than I can remember!
The answer to the question of “does heating or cooking protein powder ‘damage’ it?” is: NO. The protein doesn’t get ‘damaged’; our bodies absorbs the exact same amino acids from the protein whether we cook it or not. Though baking alters the structure of the protein (yes, it does ‘denature’ it), its nutritional value remains unchanged. Think about this: proteins are basically chains of amino acids that, when heated, can change their conformation (i.e. their structure). When you eat the protein, its molecules are broken down into individual aminos and are then brought together in your cells becoming a source of dietary protein. Cooked or uncooked, your body absorbs the protein anyway.
Do we see the protein in eggs as somehow ‘damaged’ by cooking? We don’t – even though, in reality, heating the egg’s protein ‘denatures’ it too, i.e. it changes the naturally occurring amino acid configuration of the egg!
The great folk at Tera’s Whey even asked the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Dairy Research about baking with protein powder, to put the matter – once and for all – to rest as this was a question that they too were getting fairly often. Here’s what they had to say “… whey may also be used in baked products to add additional nutritional benefits….In general, protein solubility is affected by heat and most foods are heat-processed, whether it involves baking bread, cooking caramel, or retorting soup for preservation purposes…. During baking, some of the proteins may become denatured but as this is a structural change, the nutritional content of the whey remains and thus provides essential amino acids which are part of a healthy diet. ” (UW Center for Dairy Research, from Tera’s Whey Focus Group, 2012). Click here to join the conversation!
ABOUT THIS WEBSITE
#1: I care a lot about the quality of the food I eat and, because I cook and actually EAT my protein powders, I like to make sure that, apart from cooking well and being tasty, they aren’t full of random XYZ-type ingredients. This means that, even though protein companies occasionally send me ‘free’ protein powders to experiment cooking with, I won’t cook (and subsequently eat) any powders containing ingredients I don’t find cut it (like, say, aspartame or soy protein). I never and WILL never, shall we say, hold hands with a powder I don’t fancy, nor will I recommend it to you. It’s about honesty, at the end of the day.
#2: Like I mentioned above, I try to always stay ‘on top of the game’ and am constantly on the lookout for awesome protein pows to cook with. My point here is to only use brands whose products convince me – in the context of quality, taste, and ‘cookability.’ Whenever I get a new protein powder, I play around with it, cook it, test it and taste it. But if I do this, say, once or twice and at the end the product just doesn’t do it for me, it’ll be relegated to the domains of The Forgotten. I just won’t be cooking with it very much, if at all. It’s about making the best possible food for with the best possible ingredients.
#3: Something you should keep in mind while checking out my recipes is that there’s certain ingredients that you shall not find here. These include (but are not limited to): white flour, pastry flour, whole-wheat flour, raisins, okra, pickles, soy (this goes for soy milk, soy protein powder, and soy beans – I just don’t like the stuff), aspartame or anything containing it, sugar, margarine and related abominations and anything and everything combining mint + chocolate (I just abhor that combination of flavors).
#4: I measure my recipes in cups, tbsps (tablespoons), and tsp (teaspoons). In addition to measuring my ingredients this way though, I always weigh them using a food scale. I do this to arrive at more accurate gram estimates. I enter these gram readings onto a diet tracking software I’ve uploaded on my computer (I use this one). This is how I calculate my macros (macronutrients) which I then break down into kcals (calories), carbs (carbohydrates), protein, fat, and fiber. Why do I not just use cups/tbsp/etc to measure my macros and forget about the scale? Because I think gram measurements provide a more accurate way of measuring food.
#5 (which relates to #4): A few recipes on this blog do not contain nutritional information. This is because, when I’m away on vacation/fieldwork/business, I don’t take my food scale with me and I more often than not leave my laptop behind. I’m a huge fan of traveling with my protein powders and I always working out when I’m on holiday though so I cook wherever I’m at and continue to upload my my recipes on here – I just don’t measure foods’ macronutrient profile in as much detail. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause but I like to travel light and not spend my time away from home numbercrunching and so on.
Mmmmm… This is basically all I can think of (for now). If you have any questions, comments, want to recommend any powders or, well, whatever! just drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Above all though, THANK YOU! Thank you for sharing this funny passion for protein powder cooking. Here’s to all messy post-workout kitchens, to our gyms and our DOMS, to delicious darrrrk chocolate, to absolutely yummmmmo protein-packed food, to whoever invented protein fluff, to coffee, and to our ever-lasting commitment to health and fitness! I raise my BCAA-containing BPA-free water bottle straight up to you :-))))