Washington State Department of Agriculture funds critical pea protein research
Everyone knows you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Well, you can’t judge a pea by its color either.
That’s a lesson I learned from Washington State University (WSU) Associate Professor Dr. Girish Ganjyal. Dr. Ganjyal is the Extension Food Processing Specialist at WSU and one of the first academic researchers I collaborated with when I joined team GFI.
Recently pulse protein (for example, pea protein) has come into the spotlight as a promising new ingredient for innovating new, better plant-based meats. However, turning pea proteins into plant-based meat has been trickier than anticipated because of humanity’s longstanding habit of—you guessed it—judging a pea by its color.
Dr. Ganjyal explains:
After harvesting, dry peas are grouped by classes according to physical appearances such as size and color. But several different [genetic] varieties of peas fall within each class.
This classification works fine when the intended applications need whole peas of similar color and size. However, mixing varieties of peas prior to processing them into ingredients undermines the ability of manufacturers to use the pea flour forms to produce consistent, high-quality products.
This is because flours and fractionates made from each pea variety exhibit their own physical, chemical, and processing characteristics.
In short, characteristic molecular differences across pea varieties aren’t so important if you want to cook and eat whole peas. But what if you want to use just the pea protein as an ingredient in plant-based meat? These characteristics suddenly become critically important.
There is remarkably little publicly-available data on molecular characteristics of the proteins from various commonly grown pea varieties. There’s even less information about the relationship between these attributes and their use for plant-based meat applications.
Now, thanks to a research grant from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program of the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), Dr. Ganjyal will be leading a three-year research project to characterize the physical, chemical, and processing properties of several pea varieties.
GFI had the privilege of supporting Dr. Ganjyal in crafting this research proposal, and we are thrilled that this research is underway. Developing our understanding of pea proteins is essential and exciting to ingredient companies, plant-based meat manufacturers, and anyone who wants to eat better pea-based products.
“Lack of basic data on individual varieties of dry peas as whole flours and their protein fractionates is a significant hurdle for their use in plant-based meat products,” Dr. Ganjyal says. “By generating these basic data, we will expand the capability of product development companies to successfully utilize pea proteins in their products, growing the market applicability of dry peas particularly in contribution to novel plant-based meat products.”
That, I believe, is the “peas” de résistance.
Congratulations, Dr. Ganjyal, and thank you, WSDA! We look forward to continuing to partner with you on high-impact research that will help advance the plant-based meat industry.