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Pulse Canada Update – Changing the Way We Look at Pulse Quality (PCN Winter 2014) JAN 23 2014 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Tanya Der, Manager, Food Innovation & Marketing-Pulse Canada

The Evolution of Quality Standards

The definition of pulse “quality” is evolving. As the use of pulses expand from being a soup ingredient, a salad or part of a curry, to being used in other everyday foods like pasta, bread and breakfast cereals, the definition of quality is being pushed to new levels. The quality for a pulse used in soup might be defined differently than a pulse used for a snack or in a breakfast cereal. Quality measures are also becoming more complex with the use of pulses in different forms.

Pulses are most often consumed whole, but they can also be ground, precooked, flaked, fractioned or pureed to make convenient and quick-cooking ingredients. Pulse fractions like flours, fibres, proteins and starches can all differ in purity and performance expectations. Diversification of products and ingredients has opened up new ways to determine pulse crop quality based on individual quality characteristics.

This is all good news. Pulse ingredients are gaining traction in the food industry. New product launches containing pulse ingredients have increased tenfold in North America over the last decade, from 160 new pulse products in 2002, to 1750 in 2012 (Innova, 2013). Not only are pulses making their way into a diverse range of new applications, the number of companies and manufacturers introducing pulses to their product lines is also increasing.

The food processing industries in countries like India, China and the Middle East are including pulse ingredients in noodles, biscuits and salty snacks. Examples of North American food product launches include items such as Rice & Bean Triscuits by Mondeléz, Fibre One Cereal by General Mills, and the LaraBar by Small Planet Foods.

Importance of pulse quality attributes

Quality specifications for pulses when traded as raw commodities look very different than the specifications that are required of pulses used as food ingredients. Traditionally the commodity trade has been focused on physical attributes like size, shape and colour. Seed integrity and degree of wrinkling are also important in commodity breeds. When pulses are processed in commercial food manufacturing environments, parameters such as cooking time, rate of water hydration and gelling properties become important for the efficient operation of the plant.

Food companies that are required to label nutritional value want the guarantee that they are getting superior quality in food ingredients and are getting a consistent value for nutrients like protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. From a food manufacturing perspective, the product developer needs assurance that the ingredients will perform consistently to their processing standards. For instance, they will want to ensure that the pulse ingredient can properly thicken, absorb water, emulsify, foam or dissolve within their process formulation to achieve the desired body, texture and taste in the final food product.

Consumers expect food to be the same every time they purchase it. When producing items such as a loaf of bread, pasta noodles or crispy crackers, consistency in parameters like starch damage, flour granulation and particle size suddenly become determining factors that will help food manufacturers deliver the quality foods consumers expect.

How is pulse industry adapting to these changing markets?

The evolving market requirements for quality standards pose both opportunities and challenges for the pulse industry. To capture the opportunities in the processed food sector, the pulse industry will need to create the capacity to supply pulse products that satisfy the exacting quality requirements of the end user. “We are witnessing an emergence of pulse ingredients that are distinct in both form and performance and there will be a need for ways to measure the quality of these ingredients,” says Tanya Der, Manager of Food Innovation & Marketing with Pulse Canada.

The pulse industry is currently working to ensure a) consistency in assessing pulse quality attributes, and b) that the methods for quality evaluation are available and accessible to organizations and labs around the world. Because the makeup of pulses is different than other grains, traditional tests used to characterize quality in wheat or soy industry may not necessarily work for pulses.

For instance, measuring the water absorption capacity of pea flour using the method intended for soy flour could cause issues with gelation and skew readings. Therefore, modifications of existing methods are needed to accurately analyze pulse ingredients. Modifications could include stating a specific granulation in the sample prep or adjusting water addition and tempering conditions.

Harmonization of Pulse Quality Evaluation Methods

CICILS-IPTIC (The International Pulse Trade and Industries Confederation) is currently undertaking a project, Harmonization of Pulse Quality Evaluation Methods, to assess the potential for developing uniform standards for pulse quality test methods. The food and ingredient industry will be surveyed to determine the level of interest by the ‘end user’ of pulse ingredients in establishing international standards for characterization of pulses.

Examples of survey questions include: which pulse ingredients are being tested, what quality measurements and methodologies are being used (or being requested of their suppliers), are there any challenges to quality testing, and would their company benefit from standardization of methods specific for pulses. The survey will be completed by the end of 2013. An international strategy for harmonization of methods to determine pulse quality is important to the industry as it will ensure marketing messages on pulse quality parameters are consistent and comparable between products.

There are various associations focused on standardization of analytical methods. One association is the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) Technical Methods Committees, a group that originated in 1922, when food scientists found the need to standardize methods in the wheat industry.

In 2002, the AACC expanded to include a methods committee specific for pulses and legumes. This Pulses and Grain Legumes Technical Committee is a respected source for methodology in the international food industry and develops new methods of testing pulse ingredients. Recently approved methods include, “Determining Cooking Time for Pulses”, and “Determining Firmness of Cooked Pulses”.

Cook time and seed firmness are important quality characteristics that are of interest to researchers for assessing cook quality (e.g. hard to cook phenomena) and particularly to those processing or canning whole pulses. The committee agreed that “Water Hydration Capacity” (WHC) should be the next method of focus. WHC analysis will be important as pulse flours and fractions become more prominent as a functional food ingredient.

The pulse industry has a broad range of diverse markets it caters to. Defining the tolerances requires an agreement on how that tolerance will be evaluated so that both the buyer and seller can have the assurance that what is being traded meets everyone’s needs. Harmonized testing and availability of standard methods will be integral for the industry in accommodating the needs of these ever growing and changing markets.