Pulses are popular but don't stop investing in consumer awareness, say researchers

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Pulses are popular but don't stop investing in consumer awareness, say researchers

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The Year of the Pulse may be over but pulses are still a trending ingredient, although industry needs to invest in greater consumer awareness if it is to benefit from the buzz, according to researchers.

The researchers ​called for cross-sector collaboration to build on the success of the United Nation's 2016 Year of the Pulse and to increase pulse consumption even further, in a special edition on pulses in the New York Academy of Sciences Journal.

Pulses include the well known dry beans, chickpeas, cowpeas and lentils as well as less commonly seen lupin, vetches or Bambara beans.

They are versatile and can be used whole, dehulled, split, flaked, milled or pureed.

Greater use of pulses in processed foods could be one way of making pulses more accessible, they say, especially in Western countries where ingredients such as lentils or chickpeas are less commonly used in traditional dishes.

“Certain groups of consumers are interested in increasing pulse consumption, especially those who desire to move toward a more nutritious, healthy, or sustainable diet but are challenged by limited knowledge on the preparation of pulses or are discouraged by long cooking times and reluctant to use canned products. Some may also lack access to ready-to-eat pulse-based foods,” ​writes lead author Julianne Curran from trade group Pulse Canada.

“Understanding these non-pulse consumers and their behaviours that would foster increased pulse consumption is critical to sustaining and growing the pulse industry.”

Europe's got its finger on the pulse

According to Mintal data, Europe is currently the most dynamic market for using pulses in savoury spreads. The number of European retail launches that named beans, lentils and peas in the product description jumped from 54% (the highest for all global regions) in 2012 to 62% in 2016. In the US, however, it fell from 37% to 25% for the same period. 

Manufacturers are also boosting pulses' positive health credentials (which is diminished with processing) with additional ingredients to add fibre or protein, such as chia seeds or nuts. The Noa range, available in Germany, Austria and Italy, adds quinoa to its lentil and kidney bean spreads while French firm Germline manufactures a lentil-based 'caviar' with 44% sprouted grains. 


Pulses are also a favourite in gluten-free foods. Italian-headquartered Pedon, for instance, manufactures high protein pasta made from three different pulses - red lentils, green peas or chickpeas. Its marketing director, Vania Caron, told FoodNavigator the main benefits of using pulses to make pasta were convenience and the health halo.

“Pulses offer unique nutritional benefits but usually they need a long preparation. We were able to make a pasta with only pulses [that is] ready in only six minutes. It looks like pasta but it’s tastier, healthier and gluten free. Furthermore pulses are eco-friendly, they have a smaller impact on the environment compared to wheat,” ​she said.

Last year, Japanese snack giant Calbee launched Yushoi Snapea Rice Sticks, made from a blend of green pea and rice flour, as a healthy alternative to fried potato chips in the UK. The company said it plans to extend the range​ both in the range of available flavours – with a focus on well-known Western flavours such as cheese and onion or barbecue – and ingredients. It has been looking into red lentil.

Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of dry peas and lentils, shipping to more than 150 countries each year. One third of the pulses that are traded globally come from Canada. The Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) has teamed up with one of the UK’s biggest bread manufacturers Warburtons in a research project​ designed to increase the use of pulse-based flours in bread and other baked goods.

They will look at trialling flours milled from varying pulse types and blends, analysing aspects such as particle size and the effects on ferment dough properties, finished bread quality and nutrients.

Beyond the Year of the Pulse

As part of the 2016 Year of the Pulse, the global pulse industry pledged to increase pulse production by 10% from 2015 to 2020; increase pulse consumption by

cereals grains pulses fibre seeds prebiotics gut iStock.com xuanhuongho

10% from 2015 to 2020; and improve market access to facilitate local, national and international trade.

If these long-term goals are to be met, stakeholders must focus on 'the five Cs' - communication, cooperation, coordination, collaboration and commitment.

“A committed group of pulse industry stakeholders must work together on developing and implementing two agendas. The first is a focus on shifting consumer behaviour toward increased pulse consumption through education, marketing, and actual food offerings. The second is a research agenda to address fundamental knowledge gaps regarding consumer perspectives and dietary decision making,” ​write the authors. 

Source: Annals of the New York Academy of Science

First published online 2 March 2017, DOI: 10.1111/nyas.13321  

“Collaboration among sectors to increase pulse consumption”

Authors: Julianne Curran, Milla McLachlan, Richard Black, Irv Widders and Mark Manary

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