Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas: The hottest ingredients in the snack developer's toolbox?

AGT: Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas make great snacks

North American pulse growers still export a lot of their wares, but domestic demand has ramped up significantly in recent years as beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils have started to infiltrate every aisle in the grocery store, from hummus, bean dips, pasta and salads, to chips, brownies and nutrition bars, according to pulse processor AGT Food and Ingredients.

We’re definitely not exporting as many chickpeas as we used to as so many of them are now going into the domestic market due to the huge growth in the hummus market,” says Eric Bartsch, director of food ingredients at AGT. 

“But we’re also seeing the same trend in lentils and peas, thanks to a growing market for pulse ingredients in extruded snacks, pasta, meat analogs, [non-dairy] beverages and pet food.”

In some cases, food manufacturers are using pulses to improve the nutritional profile of pantry staples from pasta (chickpeas are the #1 ingredient in Banza) to baked goods (Pure Genius brownies have 40% chickpeas) by replacing ‘empty carbs’ with protein and fiber – while novel ingredients can also revitalize tired categories by adding a new twist, he says.

In other cases, he says, pulses are driving commpletely new products and categories, especially in the snacks arena, from Beanitos bean chips; roasted chickpeas from brands such as The Good Bean, Saffron Road and Biena Foods; coated peas and fava bean snacks from World Peas lentil chips from Plentils; and ‘other bean’ hummus from Eat Well Embrace Life.

"I'd say pasta and snacks are the two biggest growth areas."

Gluten-free

Richer in fiber, protein, and micronutrients than gluten-free staples rice and tapioca flour, pulse-based ingredients can also significantly improve the texture, nutrient quality and shelf-life of gluten-free products, says Bartsch.

Overall, he predicts, pulses will continue to gain ground as they tick so many boxes (sustainable ‘plant-based’ protein source, non-GMO, gluten-free, allergen-free, high in protein, fiber and micronutrients, and low in fat) and companies such as Ripple Foods and AGT come up with ways to make them easier to formulate with.

“For example, we’ve recently introduced a mechanical de-flavoring process so you can increase the inclusion rates for pulse ingredients as the flavor is far more neutral.”

There’s a growing market for pulse ingredients in extruded snacks, pasta, meat analogs, beverages and petfood

While domestic demand for pulse proteins tends to eclipse demand for starches, there is a lot of interest in pea starch in overseas markets, he observes. “China went from importing no peas to importing millions of tons as they are extracting the starch to make noodles.”

Faba bean protein

So which pulse-based ingredients are generating the biggest buzz right now?

Probably faba beans, says Bartsch. “They are high yielding and they have a more neutral flavor and high protein levels, so for example we’ve seen people use faba bean protein as an egg replacement in pasta. We’re also seeing them in meat analogs, bakery and snacks.

“Yellow peas have traditionally dominated because they were cheaper, but now formulators are looking for something different, so we're seeing strong demand for lentil protein, faba bean protein and so on. Consumers are looking for new things and as it's the international year of the pulse, they are also hearing more about pulses in the media

“Look at hummus; it's everywhere now, but a lot of people hadn’t even heard of it 10 years ago.”

Where next for beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils?

Register for our FREE, online 60-minute Pulse Innovation Forum on November 2, featuring Brami (lupini beans), Beanitos (bean snacks), Eat Well Embrace Life ('other bean hummus'), Pulse Canada, and Banza (chickpea pasta).

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