This article provides you with a brief summary of all the main different kinds of plain protein powders available so you can better choose between them and understand what each is best for.
Pea Protein Powder 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 savoury and like peas (which is, I guess, not surprising). For this reason, using plain pea protein as the 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 flavour 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 meh if you have it as the basis to a shake – it tastes like… grass. Very earthy. So you can ‘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 rice protein powders, 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 flavoured brown 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!