The nutritional benefits of dry beans, chickpeas, lentils and dry peas and how they can be added to foods as a health-boost took center stage at a meeting in Canada today.
More than 180 people representing food companies, product developers, pulse processors and food researchers met in Toronto for the two day event to hit home the benefits of pulses.
Pulse Canada, which says the country's pulse industry accounts for $1bn in annual sales, is an association that represents growers, processors and traders of pulse crops in Canada.
The group started the Pulse Innovation Project, which is trying to increase North American consumption by stimulating innovation in product development.
Pulses are high in protein and fiber and although production of the crop has quadrupled in Canada over the last 15 years, 80 percent is exported.
The project organized the symposium to demonstrate how high-protein, high-fiber pulses can be used in everyday foods, including cookies, muffins, cake and bread mixes, pasta and tortillas.
Legume pulses are low in sodium, fat and are cholesterol-free. This concoction of nutritional attributes can help reduce the risk of a variety of health problems such as obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
Folate is also found in foods such as chick peas and lentils, and an overwhelming body of evidence has linked folate deficiency in early pregnancy to increased risk of neural tube defects (NTD) - most commonly spina bifida and anencephaly - in infants.
Peter Watts, director of market innovation for Pulse Canada, said: "Canada's pulse industry is in the midst of an intensive effort to increase North American awareness of pulse foods, their nutritional benefits and opportunities for use in food processing.
"The Pulse Food Symposium is an important step towards reaching our goal of developing partnerships with food and ingredient companies.
"We're working with food processors to show that competitively priced pulse ingredients can be used in a wide variety of food applications."
He said that adding pulse flour to muffins is just one example of how processors can boost the nutritional value of a popular snack.
The Pulse Innovation Project is also funding research related to the health benefits of consuming pulses.
Clinical research trials are underway to quantify the benefits of pulses related to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and gut health.
Pulse Canada said that as well as the nutritional and functional benefits of pulses, they have a unique "green" selling point as they draw their own nitrogen directly from the atmosphere. This means they are responsible for less carbon dioxide emissions compared to other crops.
"Fossil fuel is the main input in commercial nitrogen fertilizer. When you're eating products made from pulse ingredients, you're making an environmentally friendly food choice because less fossil fuel is used to grow the crop," Watts said.