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Development of gluten-free licorice using Canadian pulses

This one-year project aims to make a healthier, no gluten added, longer-storing alternative to wheat-based licorice using red lentil flour.

Pulses have advantages over wheat in many foods. That’s the growing conviction of food scientists as they’ve worked to replace wheat with peas, beans, faba beans and lentils in manufactured food products. Pulse ingredients are known to be higher in protein, higher in fibre and are naturally gluten-free.

One of these pulse/wheat swaps is taking aim at the candy aisle. With funding support from APG and others, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc is partnering with candy-maker Jean Purschke to create licorice made with pulses.

Several pulses would be good candidates. Peas and beans work well functionally, but could lose marks with some consumers for their strong ‘beany’ flavour. Project leader and FPDC Food Scientist Kevin Swallow and Product Development Technologist Olivia Thompson have been working with many of the pulse candidates. One ingredient stands out.

“Red lentil flour works great,” said Swallow. “It has a light pink colour, good functional properties and a bland, non-objectionable flavour.”

Development product shows potential

The one-year project, which began early in 2018, is building on previous work at FPDC. One issue arising from that research was a tendency of lentil-based licorice to ‘sweat’ due to being less efficient than wheat-based licorice at binding water.

By the end of March 2019, Swallow and Thompson expect to develop a final product formulation that beats the sweating issue. They will then scale the process up from benchtop to small-scale commercial quantities. Both black and cherry licorices are under development, with consumer sensory testing to provide the final validation of the project’s work.

“There are so many factors that go into it, beyond just making the licorice,” said Swallow. “Do the ingredients work well together? What’s the flavour profile? What’s the best way to extrude and dry it? All aspects that need to be optimized so that the process can be scaled up on a commercial basis.”

If you’re looking forward to seeing lentil licorice at your local farmers’ market, Swallow, Thompson and Purschke think that’s just a start. Their product has proven to be highly stable, with a long shelf life. That suggests it could be exported around the world and still be fresh when it arrives in-market.

“We found one of the prototypes we made about 18 months ago for International Year of Pulses that we came upon by accident,” Swallow said. “It was still quite soft and tasted good. Try that with most wheat-based licorice on the market: they’re as hard as a rock after about six months.”

Taste, health, storability, gluten-freedom. With so much going for pulse-based licorice, maybe it’s time to ask: why was this candy shop standby made with wheat in the first place?

“We believe these are good and marketable products,” Swallow said, “so it’s exciting. We’re looking forward to doing the rest of the development work and kickstart pulse-based licorice to the next level.”