Cigi pulse milling project: opening doors to food innovation, industry growth

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Eating a large muffin for breakfast, a bag of cheese pops as a mid-morning snack, and corned beef piled high on rye bread with hot mustard for lunch may raise doubts for some as the best diet choices, but in the foreseeable future there may be reasons to put them at the top of the list as healthy foods.

For the past year Cigi has been laying the groundwork for a four-year pulse flour milling project focused on expanding knowledge about pulse flour composition and functionality, and how to optimize it for commercial end-use applications.

“There are several benefits to adding pulse flours to food product formulations,” says Heather Maskus, manager of the Cigi project. “Pulses are a locally grown ingredient that are rich in protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals including iron and folate and are also low in fat and sodium.”

A significant amount of work has been done on incorporating pulse flours in a number of food applications, she says. At Cigi, they have been included in bagels, tortillas, crackers, muffins, noodles, pasta and puffed snack foods. Other potential applications include batters, breadings, beverages, yogurts, flat breads and pan breads and extenders in processed meats.

“The project aims to engage partners who will help define interest in what foods they would like to commercialize using pulse flours,” Heather says. Components of the project include producing pulse flours and examining their functional traits, creating prototypes using the flour in food product applications, and showing interested companies how to use pulses in their own processing lines along with any troubleshooting or other technical assistance.

“So far we have talked to ingredient suppliers and some pulse ingredient manufacturers who have the technical ability to produce the flours but don’t know as much about their functional attributes,” she says. “If a food company asks how a white bean flour, for example, works in a blend or what the nutritional benefits may be, they can’t really answer without the technical knowledge which our work can provide.”

Pulse flour has not undergone the same attention and analysis that wheat flour has had over the years, she points out. Consumers are accustomed to going to a store and buying the type of wheat flour they need to make a particular baked product. “Even in countries like India or Africa where the use of pulses are common, they may know there is a difference in the performance of pulse flours with different particle sizes but don’t have the technical information about the why’s or how’s.”

Heather says she expects discussion with food companies will start this year while recent activity has focused on preliminary work with milling yellow peas. “They are abundant, lower cost than other pulses, and easy to dehull and split, so are a practical place to start. We’ll see what we learn from them, and then apply it to other pulses.

“The process of milling is all about reducing the size of particles of the grain,” she explains. “Different milling methods can result in a range of particle sizes that can be separated into fine and coarse flour streams and each of these streams can then be analyzed for their nutritional content and functional properties.”

Lab results indicated that coarser flour contains more bran and hull and, therefore, more fibre but as the flour becomes finer the protein level increases, Heather says. Analysis is still being conducted on starch levels.

“This could potentially open up a market for sifting even just hammer-milled flour into coarser and finer fractions,“ she says. “They’ll have different compositions of protein and starch which will affect the functional properties and end-product usage.”

Heather adds that analysis of starch is not only to determine content levels but also to see how intact it is which would be preferable to starch that is damaged.

“Ideally what we want to do is identify the optimal flours for use in specific end products. What we and others before have found is a difference in the performance of fine and coarse flours in different applications. So that is something we really want to be able to identify and be able to take to pulse ingredient manufacturers, to tell them what flour would be more ideal for a certain product.”

While the overall objective of the project is to help establish Canada as a leader in pulse ingredient processing, other potential benefits to the Canadian pulse industry include greater market opportunities and demand for pulses, Heather adds.

The project, which will continue to 2014, is a partnership between Cigi and Pulse Canada and is funded by the Government of Canada, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, Alberta Pulse Growers, and the Canadian Special Crops Association.

For more information: hmaskus@cigi.ca

Article originally published in Cigi.ca e-publication, Spring 2010.