The aim of this work was to compare the surface adsorption and lubrication properties of plant and dairy proteins. Whey protein isolate (WPI) and pea protein isolate (PPI) were chosen as model animal and plant proteins, respectively, and various protein concentrations (0.1–100 mg/mL) were studied with/without heat treatment (90 °C/60 min). Quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation monitoring (QCM-D) experiments were performed on hydrophilic (gold) and hydrophobic polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) sensors, with or without a mucin coating, latter was used to mimic the oral surface. Soft tribology using PDMS tribopairs in addition to wettability measurements, physicochemical characterization (size, charge, solubility) and gel electrophoresis were performed. Soluble fractions of PPI adsorbed to significantly larger extent on PDMS surfaces, forming more viscous films as compared to WPI regardless of heat treatment. Introducing a mucin coating on a PDMS surface led to a decrease in binding of the subsequent dietary protein layers, with PPI still adsorbing to a larger extent than WPI. Such large hydrated mass of PPI resulted in superior lubrication performance at lower protein concentration (≤10 mg/mL) as compared to WPI. However, at 100 mg/mL, WPI was a better lubricant than PPI, with the former showing the onset of elastohydrodynamic lubrication. Enhanced lubricity upon heat treatment was attributed to the increase in apparent viscosity. Fundamental insights from this study reveal that pea protein at higher concentrations demonstrates inferior lubricity than whey protein and could result in unpleasant mouthfeel, and thus may inform future replacement strategies when designing sustainable food products.
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