UK vertical farming and research company Vertical Future is participating in a project to develop a new form of plant protein – VIP Leaf – made from the leaf of the plant amaranth.

The two-year research project is funded by Innovate UK. It will develop methods to use vertical farming facilities to grow amaranth, which will be used to develop a new source of plant protein that is intended to decrease the UK’s reliance on imports of plant proteins such as soy and pea.

Soy production has been linked to deforestation in countries such as Brazil.

The project aims to address the “growing demand” for alternative proteins, said Vertical Future.

It will lead the programme along with the University of York, Crop Health and Protection Limited (CHAP), Innovate UK-funded Agri-tech centre Syan Farms and a plant-based food development company, Eat Curious.

In a statement, Vertical Future said: “The crop can then be used to develop recipes for a meat alternative that is a market-ready product for UK consumers. Conducting the growing process exclusively within vertical farming facilities, will reduce water and energy consumption, reduce the amount of land for cultivation, and decrease carbon emissions emitted during the transportation process as the vertical farm is located on the food manufacturing site.

“Vertically-farmed amaranth will have lower environmental costs compared to other more widely available plant proteins.

“Amaranth is a lower-cost alternative to the commonly used pea protein. It’s commonly eaten in southern Africa, south-east Asia and South America and, with indoor farming technology, could be grown in the UK year-round.”

Professor Katherine Denby, from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York, said: “We work on developing improved lines of amaranth for smallholder farmers in southern Africa and are excited to be able to now exploit opportunities for this underutilised crop in the UK.”

Dr Ruth Bastow, innovation director at CHAP, said: “Our pilot study with Vertical Future proved amaranth to be a worthy candidate for an alternative plant protein that is not currently being utilised in the UK market.“