Adding Value to Food Using Pulse Protein - PulsePoint
December 17, 2018
Researchers are putting pulse protein into a variety of end-use products
by Megan Madden
Around the world, and right here at home, a shift towards plant-based foods is a trend that is here to stay. A report from Research and Markets forecasts that global demand for plant protein is to expand by 8.3 per cent over the next four years. This is great news for Saskatchewan’s pulse growers, and research into new uses for pulses is increasing and getting more creative alongside this demand. Dr. Lingyun Chen, Canada Research Chair in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta is currently working with peas, lentils, and faba beans in different formulations for uses in foods that have not traditionally incorporated pulses.
While there have been efforts to develop pulse options in food products such as breads, quick snacks, meats, and pastas — knowledge about pulse protein applications in foods like baked goods, breakfast cereal, and meat analogues is still limited. These foods are being targeted in Dr. Chen’s research because combining pulse proteins and cereal proteins can improve nutritional value, as these two kinds of proteins are complementary in essential amino acids.
Dr. Chen’s current studies are working to understand how processing conditions like temperature and pressure affect the pulse properties like foaming, and oil/ water binding when being incorporated into foods, and to examine how pulse incorporation affects flavour, texture, and baking properties.
“We are examining different methods to extract proteins,” says Chen. “Thanks to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG), we had our grad student work on different extraction methods. Some methods led to proteins with different structures and compositions with better emulsifying or gelling capacity, which can impact how the protein functions in food.”
According to Dr. Chen’s research summary from ‘Value-added applications of pulse proteins for human foods’ the results suggest that both variety and growth location of the pulses tested, impact protein extraction efficiency (protein recovery) from faba beans and lentils, as well as protein solubility, gelling, water-holding, and emulsifying properties.
Once the proteins are extracted, how does this all translate to actual food? Chen has been testing lentils and faba beans as an egg replacement option in baked goods. “We found that the lentil protein had higher foaming capacity and stability than faba bean protein,” she explains. “The lentil protein foaming capacity was comparable to egg whites and were able to replace 100 per cent of egg white protein in muffins and cakes with the lentil protein. In angel food cake we could only get it to 50 per cent replacement, but these tests all demonstrate that the lentil protein can be used in place of eggs.” Sensory testing in this research also came out positive — meaning that the flavours and “mouth feel” were comparable to baking with eggs.
Chen is also working to replace eggs and wheat flour by combining barley protein with lentil protein to enrich the protein and fibre nutrition in donuts. This research found that the lentil protein concentrates were efficient as foam stabilizers as well as oil and water binders in the donuts, based on cooking characteristics and physical attributes evaluations.
The donut prototypes also showed significantly improved protein and dietary fibre contents, but the sensory evaluation suggested that some improvements are needed in terms of appearance and taste, in order to be on par with a traditional donut recipe.
Another benefit is that the lentil protein can maintain moisture in products longer, which improves shelf life — making it more attractive to food processors and retailers. Chen’s next step is working with local companies to incorporate pulse proteins into commercial foods.
“We are working with a gluten-free food company to make gluten-free products that have both high protein as well as great texture and flavour,” Chen says.
“We are working to modify the protein by enzymes so the high level of protein can be added in food formulations to target protein claims without impacting sensory factors negatively.”
Chen is exploring new extraction and processing technologies like high pressure and ultrasound in order to successfully extract proteins while activating the enzymes that affect flavour and improve pulse protein functionality. “Non-thermal techniques also has the ability to kill bacteria and activate some enzymes to decrease some anti-nutritional factors,” she explains.
Research output like Dr. Chen’s is expected to increase global demand for Saskatchewan produced pulse crops and ingredients.
“SPG is excited to be a partner in Dr. Chen’s research, as pulse proteins are driving growth of the plant protein market,” says Dr. Constance Chiremba, Pulse Science Cluster Program Manager with SPG. “The research findings will enhance understanding of protein processing, functionality, and end-use applications of the different pulse proteins, and go a long way towards supporting the growth of Canada’s pulse protein industry.”