What are pulses?
Pulse Canada defines pulses as “the edible seeds of plants in the legume family” on its website. The family of legumes describes plants that put their fruit in a pod, like peas or peanuts. Pulses are in the family, but refer specifically to the dried seeds, such as lentils and chickpeas.
Pulses are elders among the world’s crops, having been cultivated for thousands of years.
Hitting all the consumer trends
Pulses offer a great opportunity to hit on some key consumer trends, making 2016 a timely year to dedicate to their use.
The health factor: The pulse health bio reads like a who’s who of today’s nutrition trends. Protein packed? Tick. Fibre? Tick. Micronutrients? Tick, tick, tick. For example, let’s look at how dry pea flour stacks up against all-purpose in an analysis done by the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council.
Per 100 grams, dry pea flour has 24.6 g of protein, 25.5 g of fibre, 981 mg of potassium, 274 mcg of folate, and 4.4 mg of iron. Per 100 grams, all-purpose flour has 10.3 g of protein, 2.7 g of fibre, 107 mg of potassium, 26 mcg of folate, and 1.2 mg of iron.
If you look further at potassium, the USDA reports bananas have 358 mg per 100 grams, which makes pea flour a powerhouse with 981 mg. The further question left is how much of a baked good you would have to eat to ingest 100 grams of pea flour as opposed to the obvious simplicity of eating a banana, and the answer to that would be very product specific. By weight alone, there is a clear case in point.
Heather Maskus, M.Sc., is the project manager for Pulse Flour Milling & Food Applications at the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) in Winnipeg. Cigi is a non-profit technical and marketing operation with a focus on the quality of Canadian field crops. In the bakery sector, Maskus is seeing a lot of emphasis being placed on increasing protein, and broadening the healthy attributes of traditional baked goods through pulse incorporation.
“There’s this consumer perspective of carbohydrates as being unhealthy and how we can build platforms to overcome this mentality. Pulses are one ingredient that can be used to compliment wheat in bread formulation and other baked goods.”
Margaret Hughes, vice-president of sales and marketing for Best Cooking Pulses, has been an active industry ambassador with plenty of expertise. Best Cooking Pulses is a Canadian company with roots dating back to the 1930s, and has a portfolio that includes a variety of non-GMO pulse flours and pea fibre.
Hughes says if she were a baker, she would tap into the trend of consumers looking for more nutritious bread that offers more variety in what kind of foods they include. Incorporating pulse flours can increase the protein, fibre and micronutrient content of the bread naturally, which fares well for the clean label focus.
Protein has been on the consumer mind for some time now, and pulses serve a special role in improving the quality of this nutrient, which is just as key as quantity.
“In the U.S. and Canada,” Hughes says, “because protein is based on maximizing quality protein, when you combine pulses and grains you improve the protein quality.”
The protein in pulses is higher in lysine and lower in sulphur amino acids, where grains such as wheat or rice have the opposite ratios. The amino acid structure is improved when the two are blended, since they compliment each other by making up for what the other one is lower in. This results in a higher quality protein score.
Bakeries can combine different flours to achieve a protein claim on their product, Hughes says, and can have blends custom-designed to assist in achieving their end product goal.
It’s local: “We grow more lentils and peas than anywhere else in the world,” Hughes shares. “We’re talking about a local product.”
When it was the UN designated International Year of Quinoa in 2013, no one even knew how to spell it and a lot of the raw materials were bought offshore, she says. She finds it especially exciting that the year of pulses highlights a local product for Canadians.
Pulse Canada statistics indicate that as of 2010, Canada produced 32 per cent of the world’s peas and 38.5 per cent of the world’s lentils. In the global trade of peas and lentils, Pulse Canada reports online that “Canada accounted for 55 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively, in 2008 (the most recent year of complete FAO statistics) and [is] a top five exporter of both dry beans and chickpeas. In 2010, Canada exported a record 4.3 million tonnes of pulses worth more than $2.1 billion.”
With the spotlight on pulses, there is a co-ordinated effort to understand and communicate the benefits of the crops. Although Canada is a significant producer, Maskus has seen a previous lack of awareness.
“A lot of Canadians I talk to, they don’t really understand or really know that something so seemingly exotic as a chickpea can be grown here on the Canadian Prairies, so that’s really interesting for us.”
It creates the opportunity for novelty: In Hughes’ travels through the culinary world of pulses, she’s seen some exciting things of note. She described a perogie developed by Red River College where part of the wheat flour was replaced with a black bean flour, and this resulted in excellent flavour and a purple-ish colour with flecks that was very “neat looking.”
Pulses afford a great opportunity for bakeries that want to differentiate themselves, she says.
“Bakery has been one of the sectors that have been slow to come to integrating pulses, but it’s definitely on the upswing.”
The making of a vegan, nut-free macaron
Pastry chef Geoffroy Dextraze of Winnipeg’s Prairie Ink Restaurant and Bakery created a vegan, nut-free macaron for the provincial launch of the International Year of Pulses, which was a luncheon hosted by the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers. That little cookie has really blown some doors open for Dextraze.
“Since Margaret Hughes [of Best Cooking Pulses] asked us to do some cooking for the luncheon a couple weeks ago [Jan. 6], the publicity has been crazy,” he says. His cookie feat and its positive reception has led to him being asked to join a team of collaborators in Denver who will be taking a special look at innovations with pulses.
Prior to the luncheon, Dextraze says he had been meaning to experiment with pulses more in his baking, but hadn’t done much up to that point. About 40 per cent of the baking at Prairie Ink is flourless. He hadn’t really been using pulses for that yet, but saw the potential.
He says that Hughes let him know she heard you could make a meringue with chickpea water. He looked into it online and found some success stories on making a meringue without eggs dating back to last spring. It appears the technique is pretty new, he says, perhaps not even a year old.
He gets requests for nut-free macarons, so he had already been dabbling with success at using seeds to make these.
So he decided to go all in and do a nut-free, vegan macaron. He elected to do a “confederate coffee” flavour, whereby he used ground dried roasted pea pulse that was toasted and added some ground coffee. He infused this concoction into the ganache and shells. Confederate coffee is a term dating back to wartimes and refers to the use of other foods, such as acorns, to make a coffee substitute.
“It was a very cool flavour. There were no nuts in there, but it tasted very nutty.” And for Dextraze, taste and texture needs to trump all else.
“I want to fool myself before I serve it to a customer.”
Step 1: Nut-free: Dextraze used a roasted pea flour put through a commercial coffee grinder to achieve a matching coarseness to almond meal. After that, it was a straight swap and he followed his usual macaron recipe. His improvements now centre on using pea flour that is a bit less roasted, which, as he understands, is not a problem to acquire.
Step 2: Egg-free: Dextraze began with an equal parts replacement of chickpea water for the egg whites to make the meringue.
He recommends reducing the chickpea water until you get the same consistency of egg whites. Once this has been achieved, bring it down to room temperature. When ready, add a little cream of tartar and start whipping. It will take longer than eggs do to reach the desired fluffiness, but once achieved, fold in the icing sugar and make sure it is sufficiently dried out.
“The overall texture, even baking the meringue, it’s just like eggs,” Dextraze says.
The kitchen has been producing egg-free meringue for sale in the restaurant, with pink rosewater being the first flavour offered. He says there’s been positive feedback.
“In some way, shape or form, you don’t get that strong taste of the chickpea brine. At some point in baking it just disappears.”
Since the luncheon where he first introduced the cookie, he has learned that he needs to lower the baking temperature to get consistent results. The brine doesn’t react well to high temperatures, he says, and it really needs to be kept dry. He is currently looking around for a natural additive to stabilize the foam.
He points to the fluctuating cost of eggs and the avian flu scare as some of the reasons chickpea brine is an exciting opportunity for bakers. It’s nice to have an ingredient on hand that can help save money, he says, and keep up with the demand for egg whites needed for macarons, which can be a challenge at Prairie Ink. It also offers more choices for the bakery’s clients.
“For us small bakeries, we need to be more resourceful. It’s crazy – we’ve been dumping gold [the brine] down the sink…I had no intentions of making a vegan macaron. I had no intentions of making a vegan, nut-free macaron. I didn’t bend the rules, I broke the rules with these cookies, and now anyone can enjoy it.”
Baking outside the box
A vegan, nut-free macaron is just one of countless avenues bakers and pastry chefs can take in experimenting with pulses and product development.
Yulia Borsuk is a technical specialist with Cigi. Borsuk has gained valuable experience when it comes to baking with pulse flours, an area that she agrees is still new in our understanding of how the various crops perform in different baked goods.
The key thing to remember, she says, is that pulse flours don’t contain gluten and this changes everything in your high volume bread making. When you include pulse flours (at which percentage is totally product dependent and could range from five per cent to 30 or more), the dough characteristics change because of the reduction in gluten. For bread baked in a deck oven, she generally works with inclusions of 10 to 15 per cent. Go higher than this and you will likely have to explain the unusual nature of your loaf to your customers.
Maskus recommends that if you really want to see a significant shift in protein, but want to work with a low inclusion level closer to five per cent so the bread sees very little change in characteristics, you probably want to move into a pea protein concentrate or an isolate that’s commercially available.
If you take typical white dough and add some pulse flour, the dough will become sticky. You need to add less water, Borsuk says, as absorption needs to be reduced to compensate. Hydration is key and mixing processes need to change. Mix on slow for longer to get a good hydration, and then increase the speed to develop the gluten. The dough will be mixed for less time at a high speed than your standard white dough.
If you look at characteristics such as strength, extensibility, and resistance, she says the dough will be more extensible and less resistant. Proofing time will be slightly less, but she says by how much is very product dependent.
Baking time will also be reduced. Pulses are high in protein, and this means the browning effect happens quicker. In a high volume bread, she says your end product, without any optimization, will have a lower volume, the crumb will be more dense and compact, it will be less soft and you will have a different flavour and aroma, depending on which crop you use.
There are a number of ways you can optimize the dough for better results. Adding gluten is one way, she says, but at what percentage is really product dependent and requires trial and error. Molasses or honey instead of sugar are helpful sweeteners for flavour improvement. Using stronger dough conditioners will also help, as will emulsifiers to help maintain the crumb structure and softness. Pulse flours are also to be blended in initially, not treated as a separate ingredient.
“It’s really interesting and exciting for the baker because there are so many pulse crops and each crop is unique – it has different colour, different flavour, so the baker can develop very interesting products out of those ingredients.”
Borsuk says she likes working with navy bean, fava bean and chickpea flours best because they are fairly neutral in colour when compared to a green lentil or yellow pea flour.
She has been part of some interesting work with cookies made using a wire-cut method in the style of chocolate chunk, (rotary will not work as the dough will stick, she advises). Chickpea flour worked very well for this at 20 to 25 per cent incorporation.
“Fava bean works very well in cupcakes,” she adds. “Gives excellent volume and is neutral in flavour. It’s very, very nice.”
But they are still in the understanding phase because each pulse flour behaves uniquely in different products.
“We tried them all [the flours] in cookies, liked chickpeas, but with cupcakes it didn’t work out in terms of flavour with chickpea. You have to make a product that tastes great. It doesn’t matter how healthy or what kind of claim it has, if it’s not good, no one will buy it.”
Maskus points to pulses in an application like tortillas, where there is already a lot of Latin American influence in the product.
“Beans are not a far cry in terms of traditional use with those, so you are complimenting the cuisine on its own with the inclusion of pulse ingredients in those kind of products. It’s so interesting to see how they have historically been used in many cuisines around the world, such as Mexican and Indian, and there is this sort of a resurgence in the interest in these exotic cuisines in North America.”
Black bean flour is on the heavier side of the pulse flavour spectrum and will have more flavour impact. Hughes says you can smell and taste pulses in the raw batter, but it can dissipate once cooked.
“If I bake chocolate brownies with a pinto bean flour for 20 minutes, I’ll still be able to taste the pinto, but if I cook it for another five, that flavour goes away, so there are certain volatiles that get cooked off,” she says.
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A matter of milling
Milling affects how the pulse flour behaves, which makes particle size very important in terms of understanding how the crop will act in a given formulation, Hughes says.
Wheat flour milling has a long history and well institutionalized standards in place with regards to what the particle size should be, what its gluten and protein content is, and how it will perform. With pulse milling, that information is still being gathered and standardized, Maskus says.
“Pulse flours are relatively new so my advice for anyone that would be interested in working with pulse flours is to work with a supplier who is very flexible and interested in working together on creating the best quality of flour possible for a very particular application,” she says.
On the technical side, product development has drawn some conclusions thus far.
“In my experience, more coarse – not coarse like semolina – but coarser is better for processing,” Borsuk says. “It gives it more similar characteristics to regular white dough.”
Dextraze found that a superfine grind can make a great roux for soups, but agrees that coarser flour bearing more resemblance to wheat is better for general baking.
“Typically a lot of pea flours are very fine like cornstarch and it’s very absorbent the more fine that you go.”
Pulses are naturally gluten-free and can make gluten-free baked goods healthier, offering more nutritional benefits than the starches typically used. Hughes and Maskus have both noticed pulses getting more play in the realm of gluten-free baking.
Dextraze discovered a “fantastic substitution” for the graham wafer crust on a cheesecake or key lime pie by replacing sorghum or rice flour with lentil, pea or chickpea flour.
Navy bean is very mild in taste, he says, and he finds that it loses itself with all the other ingredients. Xantham gum can help keep products like gluten-free crackers bound together.
The USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council recommends using a 1:1 ratio blend of white rice flour/tapioca starch, and chickpea, lentil or yellow pea flour.
Pulses and your bottom line
Pulses are a commodity with fluctuating prices. What you will pay will depend on a multitude of factors.
Maskus has discovered through her work with Cigi that it takes a bit more energy to mill pulses, but less milling passes are required so the energy requirements and processing costs appear similar, although she notes more work needs to be done in this area. Most of the price differences will come from the cost of the raw materials, she says.
“Right now pulse prices are a little bit on the high side related to production levels in India being somewhat low because of droughts.”
Typically, she says, peas are the lowest priced pulse. If you compared pulses in general to wheat, pulses will be a bit higher but not drastically so. They fall within a similar range where the most noticeable cost differences will be seen when buying large-scale amounts.
Ready, set, bake!
Feeling ready to plunge into pulses? Remember, Cigi is there for advice. The pulse department is built around understanding the initial technical questions food producers have when wanting to use a specific ingredient in a product.
You can also learn more about pulses simply by turning to our back page. Health expert Jane Dummer, RD and resident Final Proof columnist at Bakers Journal, has written on pulses in her article on page 30.
Key Pulse Points
- Pulses are naturally gluten-free and can enhance the nutritional profile of gluten-free baked goods.
- Chickpea brine can be used as a replacement for egg whites.
- Roasted pea flour can replace almond meal for nut-free applications.
- Pulse flours help bakeries create something unique for their customers, as its application possibilities are vast: chocolate, bread, desserts, muffins, cookies, etc.
- Incorporating pulses will change many things about the baking process. You will need to adjust the liquids added, mixing process and baking time and temperature.
- Pulses are rich in fibre, protein and micronutrients.
- Pulse flours can help bakeries achieve protein claims.