“The emerging categories we’re really focused on now [with its artesa branded chickpea protein concentrates and chickpea flour] are plant-based meats and plant-based dairy analogs such as fluid milk, cultured yogurt and gelled structures such as tofu and cheeses,” said Nutriati co-founder Michael Spinelli.
“We love the functionality of the flour and the protein together,” said Spinelli, who was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA at the IFT show in New Orleans last week.
In a recent trial, Nutriati created a silky chickpea milk with 8g protein, 1g fat and 3g fiber per serving, he said, while it has also extruded the protein to create a textured vegetable protein.
“At our booth we have a vegan pizza that uses artesa chickpea flour as a base, and then we create an Italian sausage crumble that’s vegan, and we use a combination of the flour for the gelation, and the protein to get that protein load in, and it’s got a wonderful taste profile.”
Masking agents not required
All plant-based proteins have their pros and cons, said Spinelli, a food R&D veteran who rose up the ranks at Ben & Jerry’s and chickpea-fueled brand Sabra, and teamed up with Altria exec Richard Kelly to form Nutriati in 2013.
But chickpea protein is particularly appealing to formulators because it has a “very light color, and the flavor profile is so neutral that it can be a foundational ingredient for many applications across categories,” he claimed.
“You can make a chickpea milk that’s very white in color and smooth and silky. We find that masking agents are not necessarily required in many applications because of the neutrality of flavor, whereas with other sources of protein you have color issues to contend with, and [issues with] granulation size, or precipitation of those proteins in certain applications.”
Fine particle size
Thanks to a patent-pending proprietary production process, the protein has a small, uniform particle size that delivers a superior taste, aroma, mouthfeel, and appearance, and helps it beat plant-based rivals in the functionality stakes, delivering superior water and oil binding qualities, freeze/thaw stability, solubility/dissolution and suspendibility, allowing for higher inclusion levels and shorter, cleaner labels, said Spinelli.
“Another part of our process is focused on creating a very fine and consistent particle size, which leads to very strong dispersibility and suspensibility in emulsions. So we have the emulsification coupled with the small particular size that leads to very slow sedimentation in liquid applications, so we can create ice cream and cultured products such as yogurts and cheeses and you don’t get that sandy or gritty mouthfeel from a precipitated protein, because the particle size is so small.
“Of course every protein has an isoelectric point where it’s going to precipitate. With artesa chickpea protein [however], even if you’re in that zone of precipitation, the particle size is still so small, that it’s still very palatable and silky smooth.”
As for nutrition, he said, artesa chickpea protein has around 62% protein, 14% fiber, 19% complex carbs, 4% minerals and ash, and 1% oil (making for good stability).
While it is not a complete protein like soy, egg, or casein, it is a high quality concentrated protein source with a digestibility score of 93% and a PDCAAS of 0.82 – at the top end of the scale for plant-proteins, said Spinelli.
“We have a process that’s very novel and we retain all of the amino acids, and we have a PDCAAS of 0.82, so we’re pretty happy with that as far as plant proteins go.”
The size of the prize
So could chickpea protein be as big as pea, or even soy, protein?
“Absolutely,” insisted Spinelli, who was exhibiting his wares at the booth of PLT Health Solutions, an early investor in Nutriati, and its exclusive sales and marketing partner.
“We have patents on the technology, and other patent filings, and we designed the process to be fully scalable and transferable as needed to other regions around the world, and on the procurement side chickpeas are grown globally in many different areas around the world.”
Pulse crops such as chickpeas draw nitrogen directly from the atmosphere, so farmers do not have to buy large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer in order to grow them. They are also a very efficient source of protein in environmental terms, requiring far less energy and water, and fewer pesticides than rival protein sources. Chickpeas are also non-allergenic and non-GMO.