Green, globular cuisine isn’t high on the average kid's (or many adults') list of preferred foods. What’s the food industry to do to retain an increasingly gluten-free, sugar-averse, and meat-shunning consumer base? Experiment with what might be the next big thing: peas.
These aren’t your regular, ready-to-eat peas. Among the first crops in history to be cultivated, field peas are grown to be dried and split. They can then be pulverized and de-fatted to be used as powder. According to Bloomberg, packaged food giant General Mills has spent two years using a powdered pea concoction to make an energy bar called ALT, or alternative protein bar.
Many food companies have been using peas and other pulses—members of a legume family that includes chickpeas, lentils, and beans—as protein substitutes in cereal, pasta, pretzels, and crackers. Besides protein, the allergen- and gluten-free pulses also contain fiber (more than wheat or rice), iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Unlike other meat-free protein sources, such as soy and dairy, pulses are GMO-free.
Although powdered peas have been available in health-food stores and used in protein mixes for years, their popularity surged recently. The United Nations proclaimed 2016 the “International Year of Pulses,” and companies like General Mills have been amassing a considerable stock from suppliers, creating a global shortage.
Alliance Grain Traders, a major supplier, has stopped shipping pulses grown in Canada to China, India, and the Middle East. Now it is selling the more lucrative pea and lentil flours to corporations like PepsiCo. Bill Gates has even invested in Hampton Creek, a San Francisco–based start-up that substitutes eggs with yellow pea protein to make mayonnaise carried by Whole Foods, Safeway, and Costco stores.
But how does it taste? In a test, the website reports that pasta, bread, and pound cake mixed with pea flour tasted just as well as the real thing. But replicating the consistency of meat might be a little problematic; a dry meatball with 16 percent less meat had an “odd” aftertaste.
“There are some mouthfeel issues,” Alliance Grain Traders’ research and development chief told Bloomberg. “But it has potential.”
Whether or not the powdered peas become a staple in our cereals, the trend reflects a major shift in the industrial food industry.
“Before, the only people who cared about things like gluten were the freaks on the periphery,” market analyst Heather Jones said. “Mainstream people are paying a lot more attention to this now.”