Developing New Markets for Pulse Crops

Increased production of pulse crops means created new demands

by Amanda Ryan

Impacting demand is one of the main areas that Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) is investing in to move the pulse industry forward.

SPG’s goal is to impact demand by expanding the use of pulses through increased export demand and new market opportunities. SPG recognizes that profitable growth of the pulse industry will require the expansion of pulse utilization in traditional supply chains, as well as developing new uses and new market opportunities for pulses.

“Canada, particularly Saskatchewan, is the largest producer and exporter of pulses. With 70 per cent share of global trade for some pulse crops, we cannot just focus on producing more, we also need to focus on creating demand for that production,” 
explained Carl Potts, Executive Director of SPG. “With most of Saskatchewan’s pulse crops going to the same few countries, there is a need to diversify demand into new uses.”

SPG can diversify demand by developing new markets for pulses and a lot of this work is being done as part of research projects being funded in part by SPG through their research and development program.

“When making research investments in utilization projects — whether it is pulses in pet food, or pulses for human consumption such as pulse flours in baked goods or pulses being used as a meat binder, we are looking at projects that can create the most value and demand possible. We are looking for growth areas with the biggest impact to the pulse industry, in the shortest amount of time.”

And, the Canadian pulse industry has established a major goal to create new market demand as well.

“The Canadian pulse industry has established a goal of creating demand for 25 per cent of its productive capacity in new use applications for pulses by 2025. Doing so will create nearly three million tonnes of additional demand for the pulses we produce in Canada,” added Potts.

With SPG also focusing efforts on increasing yields of existing pulse crops, and providing growers with new crop options for every acre of land in Saskatchewan, there needs to be new uses for these additional acres. Investment in research projects that create new market opportunities for pulses is one of the areas SPG is engaging in, working towards impacting demand. Here are a few of the projects that are currently underway.

A Pulse-Based Summer Staple

Next summer your barbecued burgers could have a new ingredient in them that not only offers high fibre and low glycemic index, but tastes great too.

Michelle Sigvaldson, a Food Scientist with the Alberta Agriculture Food Processing Development Centre (FPDC) in Leduc, Alberta has been looking at how a pulsebased bread crumb could be used as a functional binder for processed meats, such as beef burger patties. 

“Our goal was to produce a pulse-based crumb that provided similar or improved functionality and was accepted by consumers. A pulse-based bread crumb can provide the meat industry with an alternative to the traditional toasted wheat crumb and result in an expanded market opportunity,” explained Sigvaldson.

The project, which has just wrapped up, evaluated processing methods on pulse flours by looking at the effectiveness of reducing the aroma and flavour of pulses as a result of heat treatment. Researchers then evaluated two manufacturing methods to
create pulse-based crumbs — a traditional sheeted and baked process, as well as an extruded crumb processing method. In all methods, 100 per cent pulse flours were used for the manufacture of extruded pulse crumbs, and 60 per cent pulse flours were used for the sheeted crumbs.

Sigvaldson and her research team explored three different types of dehulled pulses — low-tannin faba beans, yellow peas, and red lentils. All three showed promising results for a pulse-based bread crumb as a binder in a beef burger patty, but further 
research concluded that yellow pea and red lentil crumbs/flours would work best in the closed structure extrusion process.

“The study only looked at binder crumbs in a beef burger patty, however the pulse crumbs could be utilized in other products such as meatballs, fresh sausages, readymade meals, etc.,” adds Sigvaldson.

This is exciting news for SPG whose goal is to increase demand for pulses, particularly for domestic consumption, where SPG sees a continually growing opportunity.

“A major pillar in our strategic plan is to impact demand by expanding the use of pulses through increased export demand and new market opportunities. We see a lot of value when there is uptake in the domestic market with increased domestic consumption,” explained Dr. Constance Chiremba, Research Project Manager for SPG. “Pulses can be a great alternative in what has become a growing food market.”

Sigvaldson also sees a lot of potential for more domestic consumption of pulses and the value it brings to Saskatchewan pulse producers.

“There is a continuous emphasis on incorporating pulses into everyday foods. In 2016, Canada produced over 4.8 million tonnes of dried peas, 3.3 million tonnes of lentils, and 82,000 tonnes of chickpeas (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2017). The majority of Canadian pulse crops are sold to export markets, primarily as a commodity. We see that the Saskatchewan pulse producers would benefit from application technologies that would result in increased domestic use. Exploring options in which pulses can fully or partially replace other ingredients in regularly consumed food products is one way to increase domestic utilization of pulses.”

So when will you see a pulse crumb beef burger patty on store shelves? Sigvaldson and her research team plan to share their research results with food processors and ingredient suppliers, particularly large crumb manufacturers and burger
manufacturers, and provide them with information on what worked and what did not work with the pulse based bread crumbs.

“Sharing these results will allow food ingredient suppliers to apply our research results, which in turn reduces product development costs, and enables them to get a pulse based crumb product to market quicker,” explained Sigvaldson.

More Peas for Pets

Healthy eating is a significant and steadily growing trend among consumers but, humans are not the only ones trying to watch what they eat. Pets are also an important part of this growing food trend and healthier, more nutritious pet food sales are skyrocketing.

Dr. Lynn Weber has been studying the inclusion of pulses in pet food for the past eight years and has concluded that, “pulses such as peas, lentils, and low-tannin faba beans in pet foods is healthier to use as a dietary starch source rather than a corn or
rice based starch.”

Too much sugar is never a good thing. Both corn and rice contain starch that is rapidly digested, which results in a spike in glucose levels and excessive insulin release, which can damage the organs. By using a peabased starch, this allows for a slow release of the sugars into the blood, meaning a low glycemic index, and less risk of diabetes and ultimately obesity down the road.

“With 50 per cent of cats and dogs overweight, and over half being obese, there is a strong desire to get better control of your pet’s diet and overall health,” says Weber.

A 12-week study showed that using pulse starches improved the overall health of a pet. For the pets that consumed the pulse-based diet, the result was a lower glycemic index and better glucose and insulin sensitivity. Weber believes a longer study would have revealed that weight control would be a long-term benefit as well.

If you were to walk into a smaller scale pet food store today, you will very likely already find some products on store shelves with pulses incorporated in them, but some of them have been rejected by cats and dogs due to taste, particularly for cats who tend to be fussier eaters.

During the long-term study, it was discovered that the taste profile of pet foods that contained pulse starch was not favoured by felines. The focus was then shifted to get rid of the bad taste, but still retain the health properties by using a fermentation method, particularly for pea starch.

“We have been working with AGT Food and Ingredients, as they are interested in adopting methods our group has developed of fermenting pea starch with torula yeast. This yeast is common in a lot of animal feed already, and it is widely used for flavouring processed pet foods due to its strong meaty taste,” explains Weber. “We think this fermentation process will allow the food to taste better, while still using pulses to enhance the nutritional profile.”

Ingredient companies like AGT can take this fermented pea starch product and sell it to pet food companies as a great tasting ingredient with proven nutritional properties.

Weber noted that in the last eight years, the pet food market has changed a lot and pulses have already made a major entry into the pet food market. In order to make sure this food trend sticks around, pet food manufactures need to ensure the food
tastes good too.

“With the ability to use 30 per cent pea starch in pet food products, this could mean a huge market potential for Saskatchewan pulses. If we can create better tasting food to begin with, there is a ton of market opportunity,” added Weber.

Dr. Chiremba could not agree more. “There is already an increased demand and steady increase for pulses in pet food with a move to more grain/meat free diets for pets,” she explains. “And a certain segment of people will pay a higher price for healthier food for their pets if there are known health benefits, so there is a definite economic gain here for the pulse industry.”

These are the kind of new market opportunities that align with SPG’s strategic plan to diversify pulse demand in the long term.

“This research shows opportunity for market growth. The more the public knows about using pulses in pet foods and the benefits, the more value it can create for growers,” added Potts. “When we invest in utilization research projects, the goal is to build
demand and create the most value and impact in the shortest amount of time. This project creates that demand potential.”

Once research confirms an improved taste and enhanced health benefits, the next step is to share this information with the pet food industry and further expand the use of pulses as a main ingredient in pet food.

“The high-end pet food market is advancing quickly and sales are skyrocketing each year,” added Weber. “There is no slow down or end in sight, and the demand for pulses in pet food will only increase. The pet food market is a very sustainable market
for pulses and it is not going anywhere, anytime soon.”

Faba Beans Offer Advantage as a New Food Ingredient

While faba bean acreage may be down slightly across Canada, the market potential for this new crop still remains high and new opportunities are on the horizon. Faba beans are grown mainly in the wetter areas of Saskatchewan. In 2016, almost 51,000 acres of faba beans were seeded in the province.

Faba beans can be processed into protein, starch, and fibre. Their biggest benefit to the food ingredient industry is the high amount of protein they contain, something food ingredient companies are always on the hunt for.

Dr. Shannon Hood-Niefer, Vice President, Innovation and Technology at the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc. (Food Centre) sees the opportunities for faba beans and is undertaking new research to increase the functionality of faba beans in food products like baked goods.

“Faba bean has clear advantages from the perspective of food processing: neutral colour of seed, flour, and fractions, bland flavour of seed, flour, and fractions, high in protein, and it is a glycemic index-friendly starch. Faba beans can be used in baked
goods by partially replacing wheat flour.” 

Hood-Niefer and the staff at the Food Centre have been testing 25 different faba bean samples, which includes 10 different varieties from locations across Saskatchewan. They have been testing the faba bean starch and protein in various food  applications. Faba bean starch has been tested in banana bread, pudding, pancakes, sugar cookies, and gravy, while the faba bean protein has been tested in smoothies, muffins, meringue, and protein bars.

“We have been testing it in cupcakes, cookies, and pancake mixes, but it can also be used in other food applications like sauces or a deep fried coating,” adds Hood-Niefer. “We are hoping to learn which faba bean is best suited for dehulling and fractionation, and what applications the fractions or isolates work well in.”

For the faba bean starch applications, initial results show that faba bean starch has a less beany flavour compared to other pulse starches, and in most cases had similar colour and structure to the wheat flour baked goods. For the faba bean protein
application, it was used in a muffin as a potential egg replacer and as a protein source in a protein bar. Depending on the variety — the result was either a dense product, or airy and light for the muffin, and some varieties provided good structure for the protein bar.

“The next phase is sensory trials, which we have scheduled, and after that, this technology and research will be open for food companies to access,” explains Hood‑Niefer.

Faba beans are fairly new to the food development industry, as past varieties have contained anti-nutritional qualities. As a result, new varieties have been bred to reduce anti-nutritional levels, which opens up a whole new marketing opportunity for
faba beans in the domestic market.

“There has been a limit with human consumption for faba beans in the past, but with new varieties and lower levels of anti-nutrients, this research project will help fill that gap and help get over the barriers of faba bean utilization we have faced in the
past,” says Dr. Chiremba.

Some of the other challenges working with faba beans Hood-Niefer identified were “improving dehulling efficiency due to size and shape, presence of convicine/vicine related to favism, and a lack of knowledge of utilization. We are working through
evaluations of the flour, protein, and starch samples in food applications and analysis of the vicine/convicine levels of the products.”

While this project is still in its infancy, the results are promising and Hood-Niefer and her team are hoping this research will lead to a differentiation of markets for faba beans.

“Market diversification is important in the current economy to ensure there is a market for crops grown in Saskatchewan,” says Hood-Niefer.

“Faba bean is a new crop option in Saskatchewan, and at SPG we have a mandate to increase production, but also market demand,” explains Chiremba.

Potts notes, “Our goal for faba beans is to increase production and build a market for them. If we want to actually grow more pulse crops and introduce new crop options, we need to find food uses for them too.”

Faba beans, according to Potts, have a lot of potential due to their ability to withstand certain types of diseases, including a higher resistance to root disease, something many pulse growers face each year.

While opportunity continues to grow in the field for faba bean production, Hood- Niefer and her team at the Food Centre are continuing to work on new food uses for faba beans, and utilizing their beneficial qualities to improve the nutritional profile of our favourite baked goods.