Sustainable pulse production sees increase in food products
by Megan Madden
Agriculture practices are more efficient than they have ever been, but there are more mouths to feed on fewer resources every day.
“We need to focus on food systems rather than agricultural systems,” says Denis Tremorin, Director, Sustainability with Pulse Canada. “At the end of the day, our crops are food and often when we talk sustainability, farm gate sustainability gets too technical to resonate with consumers and food companies.” Pulse Canada wants to shift the focus from farm production sustainability, to manufacturing and food reformulations as viable solutions that will contribute to feeding nine billion people. “Solutions can come from the supply chain, not just the farm level,” Tremorin emphasizes.
To work towards this goal, the pulse industry is working on integrating existing research with new projects to develop new markets and products. The Saskatchewan Research Council recently conducted a systematic review of numerous rotational research studies to evaluate the impact of pulses in a rotation. This review analyzed studies from across Western Canada to determine how pulses in a rotation impact greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint of the end product, not only in the pulse crop year, but in cereal crops following a pulse.
That farm-level data was then fed into a food focused project with ETH Zurich, a research based university in Switzerland. This project was designed to calculate the carbon footprint and nutritional quality of bread, pasta, and breakfast cereals currently
consumed in Canada, and how those values changed once the products were reformulated with pulse flour.
This project launched in the summer of 2016 with the evaluation of three wheatbased products. These products were reformulated with yellow pea flour on a sliding scale of ratios from zero per cent pea flour and 100 per cent wheat flour, to 100 per cent pea flour and zero per cent wheat. At each ratio, evaluations were done on greenhouse gas emissions, nutritional value, and 17 indicators in the environmental life-cycle impact.
The ratio of pulse flour was not the only changing factor, as the wheat flour used also came from different crop rotations — monoculture, oilseeds, and pulses. “Initial results show that carbon footprint decreases through pulse reformulations. Using wheat flour coming from a farm with pulses in rotation has lower carbon footprint than wheat flour coming from a farm with traditional wheat-wheat or wheat-canola rotations,” reveals Abhishek Chaudhary, Ph.D. with ETH Zurich’s Institute of Food,
Nutrition, and Health in the Department of Health Science and Technology.
“The most significant benefit was when they were in an optimized crop rotation under conditions like no-till,” adds Tremorin.
Nutritionally, pulses are rich in protein and fibre and contain high levels of vitamins and minerals such as folate and iron. Whole and dehulled split pulses are already being milled into flour and incorporated into a variety of processed foods to enhance
the nutritional content. Banza, a chickpea pasta available in the United States, claims two times the protein, four times the fibre, and nearly half the net carbohydrates of traditional noodles. Tremorin says this project showed similar results: higher protein and fibre, as well as an increase in some micronutrients.
“Results also show that the nutritional quality increases through reformulations mainly because of higher amounts of essential nutrients (e.g. fibre, protein, etc.) in the yellow pea flour than wheat flour,” explains Chaudhary.
Success of lines like Chickapea (a Canadian chickpea pasta company), a UK pulse-based bread sold through Warburtons, and Banza, prove consumers are demanding plantbased, high protein ingredients.
“We really want people and companies to think of food sustainability from a reformulation perspective,” says Tremorin. “We want to make food better, but also benefit the environment at the same time.”
The Canadian industry has a goal of developing non-traditional markets for 25 per cent of Canada’s pulse production by 2025.
“In addition to targeted engagement with food manufacturers, food service, and consumers, we want to achieve this goal by driving demand at a higher level, working with corporate leaders to see reformulation and non-traditional uses as an opportunity for products that are improved in both nutrition, and environmental impact,” says Tremorin. “For example, if a corporation has a goal of cutting their carbon footprint in half, we want them to consider reformulating products for results rather than focusing solely on going back to the farm gate to try and squeeze out incremental efficiency improvements.”