Pulses poised to satisfy hunger for protein

Pulse crops are well positioned to capitalize on the biggest trend in the agri-food industry, says a major processor.


“The race for protein is what’s going to drive the food sector globally,” Murad Al-Katib, president of Alliance Grain Traders, told delegates attending last week’s International Food Legumes Research Conference in Saskatoon.


The United Nations says the world will need 70 percent more food by 2050 and with a rapidly expanding middle class, there will be huge demand for protein.


Al-Katib said one UN official recently stated that the only way to provide that volume of protein in a sustainable manner would be to create two billion vegetarians because of the substantial environmental footprint of meat-based protein.


The International Pulse Trade and Industries Confederation says it takes 1,857 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef compared to 43 gallons for one lb. of pulses.


IPTIC says one kg of lentils emits 0.9 kg in carbon dioxide, equivalent to 27 kg for beef.


Al-Katib said there is a misconception that consumers in developing countries will crave more meat products as incomes rise.


“The truth is they eat more of their traditional protein but in a higher quality form,” he said.


In many developing countries, that traditional form of protein is pulses.


Health Canada recently revised its protein ratings for pulse crops. Under the old rating system, only navy beans and kabuli chickpeas qualified for a “source of protein” claim on food packages.


Under the new rating system, whole green lentils, split yellow peas, black beans and pinto beans have been added to the list.


Canada’s Food Guide recommends having meat alternatives such as lentils, beans and tofu often.


All of those factors point to a strong future for pulses in the growing market for vegetable protein, said Al-Katib. 


He added that pulses are even becoming popular in some North American dishes. PepsiCo has become the world leader in hummus production, which is a chickpea-based dip.


“They have about a 40 percent share of hummus production in the world. That shows you how mainstream it is,” said Al-Katib.


Few agricultural crops can meet the needs of food manufacturers the way pulses can, he said.


“I sit in front of a food company and they say, ‘What about quinoa?’ And I go, ‘It’s great, but it’s $6,000 per tonne today and peas are $250 a tonne.’ It’s surprising how many say, ‘Let’s talk about peas,’ ” he said.


Al-Katib said pulses are high in protein and fibre, nutrient dense, gluten-free, non-genetically modified and have a low allergenicity rating.


“I’ve got nothing there that is offensive to anybody in any sector and you know what, I don’t have to work at it to achieve it,” he said.

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