Yara Benavides

Yara is a PhD Candidate in Food Science under Dr. Gary Reineccius at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. Her doctoral research is focused on the characterization of off-aroma compounds inherent to the plant, through the isolation processes (e.g. pH precipitation and salt solubilization) for pea protein.  Prior to joining the University of Minnesota, Yara served as an Instructor and Researcher at the Corporacion Universitaria Lasallista in Colombia and as a Project Manager in Food Application at Naturex S.A in France. Yara holds a Bachelor’s degree in Food Engineering from Corporacion Universitaria Lasallista and a Master’s degree in Food and Health from UniLasalle in France.


Research Outline

The food industry has shown great interest in peas as a protein source as consumers seek healthier and more sustainable sources of protein. Among the different plant protein options, peas have rapidly gained popularity since they are high in protein, non-GMO, more environmentally friendly than animal proteins, have low occurrence of allergenicity and thrive in northern growing regions (e.g. US and Canada). Although numerous food companies are developing pea-based ingredients, challenges persist in producing a high-quality protein that possesses a bland flavor profile that can be used broadly in new product development efforts. There has been little work published on off-aroma compounds in pea protein isolates or on identifying the key pathways leading to these objectionable notes. We expect that some objectionable notes are inherent to peas and others arise during the process of preparing protein isolates. We propose that a knowledgeably designed protein isolation process will result in pea protein isolates that are devoid of objectionable aroma. This research project focuses on the measurement and characterization of off-aroma compounds present in pea protein isolates and attempts to determine their sources, i.e. are they inherent to the plant, or formed at various steps in the isolation of pea protein.  Monitoring the aroma compounds from the plant through the protein isolation process will allow us to optimize the extraction conditions that lead to the production of a more sensorially acceptable product. The overall goal of this study is to provide the food industry with the information needed to design a protein extraction protocol that yields high-quality (in both functionality and nutrition quality) pea protein ingredients with a clean taste that can be used widely in product applications.