“In 2016, there were around 1,150 new products in North America, Canada and the US of pulse containing products. So, we are talking products ranging from … ready-to-eat meals that are in shelf stable packaging, frozen meals, to snacks and beverages, such as plant-based milks made with pea protein. So, manufacturers have been extremely innovative in how to use pulses,” Jessie Hunter with USDA Dry Pea & Lentil Council told FoodNavigator-USA.
She added, that consumers are snapping up the products – especially because many deliver on sought-after health benefits such as weight maintenance and cholesterol management, which are backed by scientific research.
“Recent research has shown by just adding pulses to your diet people can actually help with weight maintenance and weight loss,” she said, pointing to a meta-analysis done by the University of Toronto that showed people who added pulses to their diet lost weight, even if their diet was not specifically designed for that affect.
There also is “new research that might be related to pulses ability to help oxidize long-chain fatty acids,” that can benefit heart health, especially when combined with pulses’ satiety effect related to their high protein and fiber content, she said.
Because pulses are rich in complex, high quality carbohydrates, they have a low glycemic index and glycemic load, meaning they are digested more slowly and will not spike insulin levels – making them a smart way to manage blood sugar and maintain a healthy heart, according to data provided by the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.
The Council also notes pulses are packed with essential vitamins and nutrients, including calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and B-folate, which can help promote heart health by keeping arteries elastic.
Driving consumer demand
Given these health benefits, consumers are eager to eat more pulses and innovators are rising to meet their demand.
“One of our missions from the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council and the American Pulse Association is to get these ingredients into the hands of chefs and R&D innovators to they can experience them themselves and get creative,” Hunter said.
USA DPLC and APA also are promoting consumption of pulses through its half-cup habit campaign, which Hunter says is in line with USDA’s dietary guidelines on healthy eating habits to consume 1.5 cups cooked pulses per week.
“So, how we are making it easy and approachable for people is to just add pulses to the foods they are already eating,” such as smoothies, soups, pastas and salads, she said.
“Another big campaign that we have that goes along with that is the Pulse Brand Campaign, which is really modeled after the Whole Grain Stamp. So, if you look at the package, you can see a Whole Grain Stamp and you can see how many grams of whole grains is in that product. Well, similarly, food manufacturers are putting the Pulse brand on foods that contain pulse ingredients in the top five ingredients at 5% of the weight,” she said.
These campaigns not only will promote pulse consumption by educating consumers, but will drive shoppers to buy products specifically because they feature pulses, she said.