An Interview with Dr. Nesli Sozer

Dr. Sozer has more than 20 years expertise in food material science and food ingredient/product design

Dr. Nesli Sozer

Research Professor in smart and sustainable food production, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland

Nesli Sozer

Dr. Nesli Sozer presented "Oats as an Alternative Protein Source" during the session on Processing and Utilization Technologies. A recording of the presentation is available to registrants for 30 days after the meeting.

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About Dr. Nesli Sozer

Nesli Sozer is a research professor in smart and sustainable food production at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. She has more than 20 years expertise in food material science and food ingredient/product design. Nesli is passionate about immersing food science and technology into novel concepts. Currently, she is leading projects focusing on plant proteins, meat alternatives and decentralized personalized food production. Nesli is the chair of the Healthgrain Forum, an association whose vision is to promote science-based concepts, fully unlocking the health potential in the entire grain food production chain to obtain healthy, convenient and appealing foods.

What discoveries from your previous research inform the work you plan to discuss at the Plant Protein Science and Technology Forum?

I plan to discuss the opportunities and challenges of using oats as a protein source. Questions I plan to address in my presentation include, how can we fractionate oat protein by keeping the proteins in their native form? How do we improve the applicability of oat proteins by bioprocessing or physical treatments? I also intend to provide case studies of oat protein-based meats and dairy alternative foods.

What is the significance of the research you plan to discuss at the Plant Protein Science and Technology Forum, either for future research routes or for real-world applications?

We will have to feed roughly half billion-extra people in 10 years’ time and an extra 2 billion by 2050! Yet, humanity also faces climate change and its impacts on agricultural production. Taking into account the shift of people from rural to urban areas, which will limit available agricultural area, resource scarcity is inevitable if the food ecosystem, both production and consumption, does not start to operate within planetary boundaries.

What does that mean in practice?

Eating more plant-based and fewer animal-based foods. Did you know that livestock production can deliver only less than 20% of the global calorie supply with a cost of 15% of greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of global agricultural land use? The research that we do at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland tackles the protein challenge from various angles from efficient use of resources to novel production technologies based on cell factories.

In 2025, we aim to have increased the use of new plant-based food processes and products leading to a 20% reduction of animal protein consumption per capita in Europe. My presentation will focus on oat proteins as part of a multi-functional hybrid ingredient development from our research portfolio. More information about our research portfolio can be found here.

Describe the biggest problem you encountered and solved during your most recent project?

The world is in the midst of a pandemic, which ultimately affected our working lives as well. Currently, I am leading a consortia project with various international partners that decided to stop or slow down its operations due to COVID-19 for three months. With the help of our motivated and highly skilled team, we were able to rearrange most of the lab work based on new-norms and proceed with our research instead of halting the project.

Share a turning point or defining moment in your work as a scientist and/or industry professional.

In 2007, I left my home country to carry-out my postdoctoral studies which was turning point in my work. I had the unique chance of being exposed to working in four different countries (Turkey, The Netherlands, USA and Finland). This experience allowed me not only to gain extremely valuable professional knowledge but also to understand the challenges and particularities of food science and food industry in different parts of the world.

What excites you about your work?

Tackling one of the global challenges, which is to achieve a sustainable food ecosystem together with bright minds, is how my work excites me.

What are potential future directions for the work you are discussing at the Plant Protein Science and Technology Forum?

Flavor is an important part of finding animal protein alternatives. So far, the research has mainly focused on plant-protein extraction and techno-functional properties but there is a lot to be done on the flavor side. Despite numerous efforts to remove or mask the undesirable flavors (e.g. bitterness, astringency, beany off-flavor), the flavor is still the key factor in hindering consumer acceptance of plant-based meat or dairy alternatives. Future research will focus on bioprocessing induced flavor modification.

What do you like to do when you are not in the lab or presenting at meetings?

I try to walk in the forest every day. We are blessed with nature in Finland. The mushroom and lingonberry picking season just started and I like to pick both mushrooms and wild berries to cook and eat with friends and family.