Signs point to an escalation in pulse flour inclusions in grain-based foods. Such flours may help create products marketed for protein content or gluten-free status — or both. Both the U.S. government and the United Nations are advocating pulses, too.

Food companies looking to capitalize on a pulse flour surge should remember to play the percentages. Pulse flours generally may replace a certain amount of wheat flour and flour made from other grains, including gluten-free grains. Too high a percentage of pulse flour in formulations, however, may lead to sensory issues as well as issues with batter and dough.

Year of pulses coming

The United Nations has designated 2016 as the “International Year of Pulses.” Pulse crops such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas are a source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people throughout the world, according to the United Nations.

Pulses are annual leguminous crops yielding between 1 and 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape and color within a pod, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Essential amino acids make up 18% to 25% of pulses while starches make up 55% to 65% and fat makes up 1% to 4%, according to the F.A.O.

The U.S. farm bill, also known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, included two initiatives designed to fund pulse crops. For one, the Pulse Crop Health Initiative will provide $125 million over five years to conduct research into the health and nutritional benefits of pulse crops. For the other initiative, the Pulse Crop Products Program will allocate $10 million over five years to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase pulse crops and establish a delivery chain to introduce dry peas, lentils, chickpeas and dry beans into school food programs.

Pulse flours may be used to increase the health attributes of gluten-free products, said Margaret Hughes, in sales and marketing for Best Cooking Pulses, Inc., Portage la Prairie, Man. For example, pulse flours may replace a third to a half of tapioca starch or corn starch in a gluten-free application. Pulse flours add protein, fiber and micronutrients while reducing fat.

“That’s a real opportunity for someone wanting to create more healthful products for people who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance,” she said.

Protein boosts are possible in other applications as well. Pulse Canada, a national industry association that represents growers, processors and traders of pulse crops, incorporated pulse flour in pasta that featured 5 grams of protein per serving, enough for a claim of good source of protein, Ms. Hughes said. Safeway, Inc., Phoenix, offers an Open Nature brand quinoa bread that qualifies as a good source of protein. Chickpea flour, lentil flour and yellow split pea flour are all ingredients in the bread.

The protein in pulse flours may complement the protein in grain flours.

“When you are looking at the quality of a protein as well as the quantity, you are considering how the composition of that protein compares to the ideal balance of essential amino acids,” Ms. Hughes said. “Cereal grains are low in lysine, one of the essential amino acids that our body does not produce. Pulses are lower in the sulfur-containing amino acids, which are also essential amino acids that our body does not produce.

“If we mix the cereal with the pulse at the amino acid level, it’s possible to increase the total amount of quality protein in this new ingredient, the pulse cereal flour blend.”

Pulse flour used in conjunction with cereal flour improves the quality of protein without the need for fractionation into pea protein concentrate/isolate and pea starch, she said. For this reason pulse flours are more economical since less processing equals less cost as well as the added benefit of a cleaner label and a more environmentally friendly product.

Best Cooking Pulses, a family-owned business, was established in 1936, first primarily serving as a commodity seller of peas. The company became involved in pea fiber about 25 years ago. Pulse flour offerings followed, Ms. Hughes said.

“Pulse flours have come to the fore in the last five years with significant increases in sales year on year,” she said.

The ability of AGT Food and Ingredients, Inc., Regina, Sask., to promote pulse flours has risen this year.

Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., became the exclusive distributor of pulse flours, protein and bran ingredients from AGT Food and Ingredients through an agreement reached in June. It covers consumer foods and ingredient segments and the geographic areas of the United States, Canada, China the Middle East and North Africa.

“We are excited for the prospects of our alliance with Ingredion,” said Murad Al-Katib, chief executive officer and president of AGT, when the announcement was made in June. “The application expertise, distribution, reach and global commercialization success of Ingredion is certainly well known in the specialty ingredients market around the world. We believe the specialized go-to-market approach and the focus on innovation and product development of Ingredion will complement AGT’s global leadership in sourcing and processing pulses, allowing us an increased and added value offering to our customers.”

Mehmet Tulbek, director of research and development in the innovation division for AGT, spoke about pulse flours during a session June 24 at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting in New Orleans.

Pulse flours may assist in establishing structure and network in gluten-free pasta while achieving levels of 18 grams of protein and 14 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams of pasta, he said. Pulse flours may provide the nutritional attributes of protein, dietary fiber and micronutrients along with the functional properties of expansion and texturizing in breakfast cereals and extruded snacks. In gluten-free crackers, pulse flours may provide protein, dietary fiber and micronutrients along with the functional properties of expansion, binding, texturizing and gel formation.

Dan Best, president of BestVantage, Inc., Lincolnshire, Ill., spoke at the same I.F.T. session. He gave pulse flours as examples of functional flours. He proposed to define functional flours as “grain and non-grain flours modified to enhance the tangible values of their individual components to the consumer, through breeding, blending and/or further processing.”

Playing the percentages

Pulse flour inclusions will take work. Unlike wheat flours, legume flours, which encompass pulse flours, produce no gluten when mixed with liquid, according to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Moscow, Idaho. Legume flours thus require special treatment when they are formed into workable dough or batter that will rise, hold its shape and deliver a desired texture. Functional properties to consider include foaming, emulsification, texture, gelatin, water and oil absorption, and viscosity. Increasing the amount of precooked pea flour (with or without hulls) leads to progressively darker flours than seen in wheat flour mixed with uncooked pea flour.

Ms. Hughes said grain-based foods applications with pulse flour roughly tend to be 80% cereal grain flour and 20% pulse flour. The percentage of pulse flour inclusion varies by application.

“With a cookie, you can have a higher inclusion,” Ms. Hughes said. “With cookies and muffins, you can actually use pulse flours in a blend like 50-50, or at times even 100%.”

Edible bean powders work well with traditional cereal grains in baking applications such as cookies, brownies, cakes, bread, crackers and pizza crust, said Cheryl Borders, manager, soy food applications, technical services, edible beans for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago. They also work in extruded and sheeted snacks, cereals, pretzels and crisps for particulate bars.

“The edible bean powders offer a way to introduce vegetables in an untraditional format as well as increase protein and fiber,” she said. “We recommend starting at a 10% to 30% replacement of flour, but this can vary with the application and the desired final texture. For example, a gluten-free brownie can be produced by replacing 100% of the wheat flour with black bean powder. The bean powders have significantly more protein and fiber than traditional cereal grains and therefore have a greater affinity for water.

“This may require a change in the order of addition of ingredients or creaming the bean powders with the fat source in the formulation prior to the addition of water.”

Several presentations at the AACC International annual meeting in October in Providence, R.I., involved pulse flours. For one, the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi), Winnipeg, Man., studied yellow pea flour with a protein content of 26.4% and another yellow pea flour with a protein content of 21.2%. The pea flours were blended with a Canadian western red spring wheat at levels of either 5% or 15% and processed into noodles.

Instrumental texture evaluation showed noodles containing 5% yellow pea flour were significantly more elastic than noodles containing 15% yellow pea flour. A trained sensory panel detected significant differences for color, flavor and different texture attributes.