15 May 2024

From dairy proteins to plant-based sidestreams

Tenure track

Having recently started on the tenure track, Assistant Professor Norbert Raak seeks to use knowledge and research on dairy proteins to better utilize plant-based resources for food.

Picture of Norbert Raak
Norbert has already secured a Novo Nordisk Foundation Start Package Grant of almost DKK 4 million, which lets him dedicate his work towards building knowledge on protein interactions to better utilize food processing side streams.

It’s been a running start for Norbert Raak, who started as a Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the Department of Food Science at the end of last year. He has already secured a Novo Nordisk Foundation Start Package Grant of almost DKK 4 million to establish his own research line on novel, sustainable plant protein ingredients, alongside taking over and redesigning a course in the Food Science and Technology MSc.

Coming from a position as a postdoc at Aarhus University, it was the natural next step for him, Norbert says – and that he has already settled in nicely.

“It’s been an exciting time. This is what I’ve been wanting to do: to work more ambitiously in scope and do it more efficiently. And that’s what I can do in this position, as I have a stronger profile to apply for funding and to work with PhD students and postdocs on my research ideas,” explains Norbert Raak.

Making the most of side streams

Norbert has a background in food process engineering with particular focus on milk proteins, and he has become a part of the Food Proteins group at the Department of Food Science. He hopes that his knowledge will be especially conductive when applied to other types of proteins that are part of driving the green transition of food.

“Essentially, I want to understand what makes dairy proteins so special, what enables them to be turned into so many different food structures that people like so much. And then I want to apply that knowledge to other protein sources such as plants or microalgae,” says Norbert Raak.

With the grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Norbert will especially be dedicating his work towards building knowledge on protein interactions to better utilize food processing side streams. Most notably, the press cakes that remain after making oil from, e.g., sunflower seeds or rapeseeds is something that Norbert wants to investigate the potential of, as they are presently being used as feed for livestock or biogas fuel, if it is used at all.

“Valorizing side streams is something that I’ve worked on previously, and it’s something that is close to my heart. To use side streams and turn them into sustainable food with high nutritional value and functionality that it is also enjoyable as food - I find that quite exciting,” says Norbert Raak.

His initial focus will be on expanding the fundamental knowledge of various proteins - which factors have an impact on the protein functionality and why - rather than trying to create a product.

Finding joy in teaching

Norbert has also taken over the MSc course Molecular and functional properties of milk. And like his research, he has big plans for the future of it, including modernizing the teaching to include technology-enhanced learning methods. And he’s finding that the more he’s teaching, the more he’s enjoying that part of his tenure track.

“When I first started to do lectures in Germany, I wasn’t too excited about it. But now I’m actually enjoying it. It’s a bit like research in the sense that I get an idea, try it out in practice, and then see how it worked. In this case, how the students respond, and how I can improve from that. So, it’s become another one of my projects, to redesign the course over the next years, give it my own identity, modernize the teaching, and hopefully create something that makes the students happy and fulfill their expectations,” says Norbert.

Even though he’s enjoying it, Norbert will not be going all in on teaching for the foreseeable future. It’s still his food protein research that is his most powerful driver in his daily work.

“Like most researchers, I want to leave a mark on the world and contribute with significant knowledge that can be used. Hopefully to provide better, safer, and healthier foods from all kinds of resources,” says Norbert Raak.

Read more about his research project here.


Norbert Raak,
Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Department of Food Science