From ready meals to breakfast bars, lots of pulse flour-based gluten-free products are coming on stream, says Margaret Hughes from Best Cooking Pulses, Inc., with the favorable nutritional profiles and moderate costs gaining traction with manufacturers and consumers alike.
Pulses such as chickpeas (garbanzo beans), beans, lentils, and peas are rich in protein, fiber, and micronutrients, and are low in fat. They are also easy to grow and easy to transport, said Hughes. They are gaining attention as value-added food ingredients because they are gluten free, non-allergenic, non-GMO, and low glycemic index.
The two big drivers are gluten-free and non-GMO, said Hughes, and the Saskatchewan-based family firm is enjoying “really, really strong” performance in gluten-free, as formulators and consumers move beyond the reputation of pulses as a poor man’s dinner.
“Peas are not very sexy unlike quinoa. There is an impression that peas make up a poor man’s dinner. We are making pulses more interesting,” she told us.
A growth market: ‘I don’t see this suddenly stopping’
The size of the gluten-free market is hard to pin down , with figures ranging from $486.5m in 2013 (Euromonitor) to a whopping $10.5bn (Mintel), with definitions accounting for some of the discrepancies. Despite the differences in market size, most if not all market watchers are predicting double digit growth over the next 2-3 years.
While market researchers predict continued healthy growth for the US gluten-free market, not everyone is convinced that it is built on a solid foundation, however, with Suzy Badaracco, president of trend watcher Culinary Tides, telling us : “Not only have we already hit the ceiling, the gluten-free bubble is already bursting and consumers are abandoning the diet”.
Sumit Luthra, VP, marketing, innovation, and business development, Gluten Free at Weston Bakeries , has a very different view of the sector, telling us that, if there is a natural ceiling to the gluten-free market, we’re nowhere near hitting it yet.
Best Cooking Pulses’ Hughes definitely sits on the positive side of the fence. “The gluten-free market is a relatively young market, and clearly a growing market. I don’t see any bubble bursting. I don’t see this suddenly stopping. I don’t think it’s going away.”
While pulse flours for gluten-free are gaining traction, Hughes is conscious of the challenges food formulators face in balancing creative thinking with the more conservative mindset that is needed to ensuring minimize risk.
“Food companies are concerned about risk, and it is such a challenge making contact with these companies,” she said. But there are many success stories already. Glutino, for example, is using chick pea flour in its breakfast bars, while Costco has a line of gluten-free crackers in four out of five national areas made from pulse flours, she said.
One major cereal manufacturer is doing trials with pulse flours and a major launch is expected in 2015, she revealed, and beyond cereals and snacks, formulators are now using pulse flours in ready meals and beyond.
“There are lots of pulse-based gluten-free products coming on stream.”
Blends also have great potential, she said. “Lentil flour extrudes well, whereas pinto bean flour doesn’t, so blending them together allows pinto beans to be used in extruded products. Pea flour may have some off-notes, so you can blend that with another pulse and fix the flavor.”
The company is working with specific customers on the blends, and each blend is developed specifically for that customer.
“I’d imagine we’ll see a lot more of these blends in the future,” she said. “A company can feel confident that the blend they have is their own.”
And it’s not just blends of pulse flours, but some work has shown that combining pulse flour and combining it with buckwheat flour in a 33:66 ratio creates the whole amino acid profile.
The effect of milling can also have a big impact on the resulting pulse flour, she said. Click here to watch Margaret Hughes talking with FoodNavigator-USA about milling at last year’s IFT.
So why the focus on flour? It’s about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. “We considered getting into pea protein, yes, but we decided that we should look at the potential of pea flour. We believe in whole pulses. Why go through the process of creating a fraction when the protein level in the flour is 20-25%?”
11.30am EST, April 30, 2014.
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