Pulses (dry peas, chick peas, lentils and beans) are gaining ground as a valuable source of nutrients in the diet, due to their high protein, starch, fiber, vitamin and mineral content, as well as their low-fat content, low-glycemic index and gluten-free status. Recent clinical studies have demonstrated that pulses contribute positively to the management and prevention of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

They also have been shown to assist with weight management and serve as prebiotic material for gut bacteria, says Laura Sawyer, senior scientist, Food Development Centre at Pulse Canada. These nutritional and health attributes have positioned pulses for use in the rapidly growing markets of nutritionally enhanced and gluten-free foods. According to a recent report from Packaged Facts, the gluten-free market has grown at an average annual rate of 28% since 2004, when it was valued at $580 million, to $1.56 billion in 2008. It is estimated it will be worth $2.6 billion by 2012.

 Pulses have traditionally found their home in the soup and chili category. However, they are rapidly expanding into the bakery, pasta and cereal food categories. A current research project conducted by the Food Development Centre (FDC) in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, sponsored by the Alberta Agriculture and Food Council, Newlyweds Foods and pulse processors in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, is helping pulses enter these non-traditional markets, notes Sawyer. Besides Sawyer, others on the FDC research team include Alphonsus Utioh, Janice Meseyton and Lisa Humiski. The team is exploring the use of pea fractions (flour, fiber and native starch) in pre-dusts and batters for meats.

Phase 1 of the research examined tempura-battered chicken nuggets. Pea flour and pea starch replaced 100% of traditional wheat flour and corn starch in the pre-dust and tempura batter, explains Sawyer. Pea fiber was also added to the coatings to raise the total dietary fiber content of the nuggets and transform them into better-for-you prepared foods. To date, the research team has established--through bench and pilot trials--that pea starch, flour and fiber can be utilized in tempura batter coating systems to replace traditional ingredients and to produce products that can attain a fiber nutrient content claim.

Sawyer says the main research findings showed:
* Chicken nuggets with native pea starch in the coating showed no significant differences in overall quality and sensory attributes after the chicken nuggets were held for 60 minutes in a food warmer.
* Chicken nuggets with pea flour and starch in the coating were significantly crispier and more golden in color. This suggests that pea flour can be used as a substitute for corn flour to increase color development in wheat flour coatings.
* Chicken nuggets with pea fiber, flour and starch in the coating showed great potential, due to increased total dietary fiber, increased crispiness, a more golden color and equivalent product sensory attributes, when compared to control nuggets containing wheat and corn ingredients. Some of the pea flours and fibers tested increased batter viscosity and have the potential to replace gums used as thickening agents in the batter.

Phases 2 and 3 of FDC’s research with pea fractions in coatings is continuing, with breaded fish and glazed chicken breasts. pf

For more information:
Pulse Canada • Portage la Prairie, MB, Canada
Laura Sawyer • laura.sawyer@gov.mb.ca
www.manitoba.ca/fdc