Yixiang Xu, PhD, food processing/engineering assistant professor in Virginia State University's Agricultural Research Station, has been awarded a two-year $29,186 specialty crop block grant from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to spur the development of chickpea varieties that are suitable for production in Virginia.
“The goal of this project is to build a bridge between farmers and food industry by establishing standard criteria for physicochemical and functional properties of chickpea to help agronomists, plant breeders, farmers, and food industry in developing/selecting chickpea varieties suitable for production in Virginia and also for meeting specific needs of food processors like Sabra,” Dr. Xu told FoodNavigator-USA, adding that she will be specifically focusing on the food processing side.
“The efforts will contribute towards enhancing Virginia’s agricultural economy and will help in achieving our long-term goal of establishing chickpea as a new specialty crop for production by Virginia farmers and utilization by local food industry.”
Currently, there is no commercial chickpea production in the state; the bulk of US-grown chickpeas come from the Pacific Northwest. But growing demand for hummus in the US has encouraged farmers to boost production. The 2012 US chickpea harvest totaled a record 332 million pounds, up 51% from the previous year, according to the USDA. The value of the US chickpea crop also hit a new record last year, of $115.5 million, USDA data indicated.
The nutritional quality (or seed composition), physical properties, and functional characteristics of chickpea seed “substantially influence” the final quality and performance of the manufactured hummus products, though such properties vary among chickpea cultivars, Dr. Xu noted.
“Such information is currently lacking and is needed by agronomists, plant breeders, farmers and the food industry for making appropriate selections of chickpea varieties for planting and for utilization," she said. "Therefore, it is very timely and necessary to set standard criteria for chickpea nutritional, physicochemical, and functional properties for food preparation, including hummus, spaghetti, and baked snacks.”