Pulses: Healthy potential – but still challenging for the American palate

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: United states, Nutrition, Wheat

Pulses: Healthy potential – but still challenging for the American palate
Pulses could be used in a wide range of products to answer demands for healthier and gluten-free foods, but their flavor and texture is still challenging for many Americans, experts at the Research Chefs Association annual conference said on Saturday.

Beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas have gained in popularity, but they are still foreign to many US consumers, who are more familiar with creamy, smooth textures – like that of mashed potato – with a fatty, buttery finish, said Chef Walter Potenza of The Culinary Council.

“It’s very difficult to get these ingredients into the American diet,”​ he said.

However, as a type-2 diabetic who claims to control his weight and blood glucose levels through a pulse-rich diet, Potenza is an ambassador for pulses’ healthful properties, saying that their greater use and acceptance could help millions of Americans with diet-related health problems.

Healthy alternatives

In particular, pulses have a low glycemic index, meaning that they produce a gradual rise in blood glucose after consumption, which, apart from making them a good choice for diabetics, also produces a longer lasting feeling of satiety. This could make them useful for weight control and weight management, Potenza said.

Pulses as ingredients, such as flours, flakes, and fractionated into protein, fiber and starches, are now more widely available than ever before in Canada and the United States. These can be incorporated into a variety of products, such as baked goods, dips, or pasta, cutting fat levels and boosting protein and fiber content.

Pasta made with 25% lentil flour, for example, would have 25% more protein than pasta made with durum wheat flour alone, and a 100% increase in fiber, according to Pulse Canada’s director of marketing and communications Courtney Hirota.

Pulses have also caught the attention of manufacturers of gluten-free foods in recent years, for their functional properties as well as their nutritional benefits, particularly as consumers have become more aware of the nutritional deficiencies of many commercially available gluten-free products.

Pulses in McDonald’s?

Hirota said that pulse growing has increased by about 500% in the past 20 years in North America, but around 70% of those pulses are exported, as domestic demand is still relatively low, and growers continue to find more promising markets elsewhere.

Nevertheless, even abroad, finding sufficient supply from North American growers has been challenging for some.

One conference delegate said that she had been successful in getting lentil patties accepted by McDonald’s throughout Australia as a vegetarian burger option, but couldn’t source enough lentils to meet their demand.

“We ended up going with the chickpea burger instead,”​ she said.

Hirota said that pulse growers would normally need about six to eight months’ notice to ensure a reliable supply for such high volume orders.

‘Start with the kids’

Potenza is hopeful that pulses will continue to increase in popularity in the United States – and not just among gluten-free consumers. He said that introducing children to pulses’ flavors and textures could be crucial in the further development of the pulse market in the United States, and this is likely to be helped by the current focus on healthy, sustainable, locally grown foods.

“I believe that we have to start with the little kids, and we have to get into the schools,”​ he said.

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