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Inspirational ideas: Pulses- superfood for the future

2016 is the UN’s year of the pulse. Watch the video from the FAO then read the article below to find out about how innnovations in food products using pulses, such as ‘pulled oat’ or faba bean yoghurt, combined with the results of research to improve their productivity, means that growing legume crops is becoming more competitive. EU agriculture can also benefit from their effects on soil, cropping systems and biodiversity.

Perfect pulses

Pulses are the seeds of legume crops, such as peas, beans and lentils, and they are highly nutritious with important health benefits. They are high in protein and fibre, and low in fat and sugar. Pulses also foster sustainable agriculture, and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Legumes fix nitrogen from the air with the help of Rhizobium bacteria living in their root nodules. This benefits both the legumes, which need nitrogen to grow, and the bacteria, which in turn are nourished by the plant. Peter Strijk, farmer and owner of the Dutchsoy company states: “Soybean crops can fix up to 75% of their nitrogen needs from the air, so they need very little nitrogen fertiliser. The crop also fits very well in the current crop rotations in the Netherlands, and we have seen that it has a beneficial effect on some of the crops subsequently grown in the same field.”

The United Nations have declared 2016 to be the International Year of Pulses to encourage better use of pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, improve crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.

Innovative uses of pulses

Faba bean yoghurt and ’pulled oat’

Fred Stoddard of the University of Helsinki has supervised several students studying innovative ways to use pulses. He draws attention to ‘Pulled oat’, a vegetarian food product made from oat, pea and faba bean proteins: “This was invented by one of our PhD graduates, Reetta Kivelä, and very skilfully promoted using Finnish social media so it flies off the supermarket shelves as fast as it gets there. And it tastes good!”

He is also enthusiastic about the faba bean yoghurt being developed by the students: “Some students are working on ways to use whole flour to make yoghurt and tofu from faba bean. I found that the yoghurt tasted excellent, but I didn’t get a chance to try the tofu. Our Chinese students thought its sweetness was not to their taste, but think of cheese cakes, quark desserts (a mainstay of Nordic diets), and other sweet products made in the western world from ‘cheese’. This is a product with an exciting future!”

Microwaving the faba bean making it more suited for food

Food-use of faba bean (as opposed to use for animal feed) has been commonly limited by the unpleasant ‘beany flavour’. PhD student Zhongqing Jiang from the University of Helsinki discovered that pre-heating of faba beans with an oven or microwave provided an excellent balance of improved milling properties, preserved protein solubility and minimised activity of enzymes that are detrimental to product flavour. Comparable results are shown by the Fraunhofer Institute on lupin. Industrial partners in Finland are now testing the heating on faba beans on a pilot scale.

Improving the productivity and profitability of legume crops in Europe

Soybeans are a commodity that is traded worldwide, providing ingredients for many food products and animal feed. In Europe, soybean is not yet widely grown, but there are a number of initiatives running such as the Dutchsoy company, which aims to promote the crop in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe. Since 2013, they have worked with students from the CAH Vilentum Agricultural College and other research partners to find varieties and cropping methods that would allow soybean to be grown in the Netherlands. Peter Strijk: “According to our findings, a yield of 3 tonnes of soybean per ha should be possible, and this could be increased further using varieties that would be better adapted to the environment and with more farmer experience in growing the crop. This means that soybean can compete with winter wheat in arable farming in the Netherlands.” Dutchsoy is working with the farmers’ cooperative CZAV and the Province of Zeeland, and with Europsoya to encourage farmers to grow soybeans in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe.

There are several other initiatives in Europe to promote legume crops, such as the PROGRALIVE Operational Group in the West of France. PROGRALIVE is working on improving the productivity and profitability of lupin, pea and faba bean crops through better crop management. The project was based on farmers’ requests and it involves on-farm experiments with mixed crops (cereals combined with legumes).

International Year of Pulses

2016 is the UN’s International Year of Pulses. This initiative was launched to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition. You can watch an interesting video here explaining the 5 benefits of pulses (nutrition, health, climate change, biodiversity and food security) with examples from around the world. The FAO website gives much more information.

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