Beans, peas, lentils: From ‘poor man’s meat’ to the hottest gluten-free ingredients?

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Greener than many other sources of protein thanks to their ability to 'fix' nitrogen, pulses are also packed with fiber and protein, low in fat and gluten free
Greener than many other sources of protein thanks to their ability to 'fix' nitrogen, pulses are also packed with fiber and protein, low in fat and gluten free

Related tags Flour Nutrition Gluten-free diet

Using ingredients from chick peas, dry peas and lentils - which are richer in fiber, protein, and micronutrients than gluten-free staples rice and tapioca flour - could significantly improve the texture, nutrient quality and shelf-life of gluten-free products, delegates at a recent webinar were told.

In ‘How to use Pulses in Gluten-Free, Allergen-Averse Product Development’ - ​hosted by Best Vantage Inc and the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Best Vantage Inc president Dan Best said pea, chickpea and lentil flours and fractions could transform the nutritional profile of gluten-free pasta, pizza crusts and snacks.

But they are also enjoying something of a PR renaissance as food marketers tap into their wholesome, sustainable and non-GMO credentials, while market researchers are predicting we’ll see them move into several new categories beyond ethnic foods and chips (click here​), he said.

Once pulses were considered as the poor man’s meat, but now they are gaining attention as nutritionally superior value-added foods and ingredients."

Gluten-free lentil pasta: 21g protein, 13g fiber per 85g serving

While manufacturers are now experimenting with a broader range of ingredients from sorghum and teff to quinoa, most gluten-free products are still made with white rice flour and tapioca flour (coupled with potato starch and cornstarch), which are very low in fiber and protein, said Best.

By using lentil flour instead of corn and rice flour in a gluten-free pasta, for example, you can pack in a whopping 13g fiber, 21g protein, and 15% of your DV of riboflavin, 20% of your DV for calcium, 40% of your iron DV, and 30% of your folate DV, all in one 85g serving, he added.

Research by the Northern Crops Institute at North Dakota State University also shows that using pea flour increases the al dente quality of pasta, he revealed.

pulse nutritional content

Pulse flours are better at retaining water  

Pulses have enjoyed something of a PR renaissance in recent months

Meanwhile, replacing 30% of a gluten-free blend of tapioca and rice flours with lentil flour in a gluten-free shortbread recipe can up protein levels from 1g to 2g per 30g serving and increase dietary fiber from 0g to 2g.

Other recipes explored in the webinar included a gluten free pizza crust with chickpea flour at a 30% inclusion rate and gluten free chocolate chip cookies made using pre-gelled chickpea and pea-flour (5.8% inclusion rate each), coupled with smaller quantities of rice and tapioca flour, greatly improving their nutritional profile.

Pulse flours and fractions can also enhance a wide range of other gluten-free foods, serving as thickeners and emulsifiers in soups and sauces, dips and spreads, protein sources in liquid meals, binders and moisturizers in meat products, and good sources of protein and fiber in extruded snacks, bars and trail mixes, he said.

Sustainable? Check. Nutritious? Check. Non-GMO? Check

A staple ingredient in Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisines, flour from chickpeas (also known as gram flour, garbanzo flour, or besan) is high in protein, fiber, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and folate

Pulses are legumes such as chickpeas (garbanzo beans), dry beans (phaseolus spp.), lentils, dry peas (field peas), and broad beans (fava beans).

Greener than many other sources of protein thanks to their ability to lock in nitrogen from the air into the soil, pulses are often used as rotational crops to restore soil quality.

They are also gaining attention as value-added food ingredients because they are gluten free, non-allergenic, non-GMO, low glycemic index, low fat, and packed with fiber, protein, iron and folate.

The rise and rise of gluten free

According to a January 2013 consumer survey by The NPD Group​, 30% of American adults say they are now trying to reduce or exclude gluten from their diets.

Meanwhile, the (many experts would say erroneous) belief that a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight and improve your health - even if you don’t​ have celiac disease - continues to gain momentum, according to an August 2012 Packaged Facts consumer survey.

Asked why they bought gluten-free products, 35% of respondents said gluten-free products were "generally healthier",​ 27% said "to manage my weight​", 21% said that gluten free products are "generally low-carb​" and 15% said a member of the household had a gluten or wheat intolerance.

Just 7% said they were buying them because a household member had celiac disease.

Click here​ to views the slides from the presentation. 

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