Banza announced its new chickpea rice will be available on shelves at Whole Foods Market outlets nationwide. The company, best known for its chickpea pasta, said its chickpea rice has three times as much protein, twice the fiber and 30% fewer net carbohydrates than brown rice.
The product is available in plain Chickpea and Tricolor Legume, which is made from chickpeas, red lentils and green peas, Banza said in a release. It is naturally gluten-free, quick and easy, and can function as a base or a side dish alternative to regular rice, quinoa or other grains, the company added.
"Similar to what we did in pasta, we're excited to upgrade an equally popular staple food," Brian Rudolph, co-founder and CEO of Banza, said in a release. "We're so grateful for Whole Foods' partnership in helping us bring a more nutritious rice to more people."
With this new chickpea rice, Banza is hoping to replicate the success it's had with chickpea pasta, which the company said is the fastest-selling top-50 pasta brand in the U.S., currently sold in more than 11,000 stores.
The company said it wants to offer healthier versions of comfort foods, and this new product seems to fit into that niche. Consumers are looking for functional foods that provide more protein and nutrients, and chickpea rice is likely to deliver on that score. Banza said it contains three times as much protein, twice as much fiber and 30% fewer net carbs than brown rice, so it can provide a better-for-you substitute for regular rice, quinoa and other grains.
However, it won't be the only chickpea-containing rice product at Whole Foods. RightRice just launched a vegetable rice consisting of more than 90% lentils, chickpeas and green peas and 10% rice, Food Navigator reported. RightRice founder Keith Belling told the site he went through a lot of trial and error to get his new product to resemble rice and also deliver on nutrition, taste and texture.
Cost doesn't seem likely to present a barrier to trying out either of these new rice products. Banza's chickpea rice wasn't yet listed online at Whole Foods, and the two varieties were sold out on the Banza website. However, Rudolph told NOSH that eight-ounce bags of chickpea rice will retail for $3.99 — the same price as seven ounces of RightRice's new vegetable rice product.
Rudolph told Food Navigator that chickpea rice is different than cauliflower rice in that it has a "bite" to it. Chickpea rice's higher protein and fiber make it more filling than a vegetable-based rice product, he said.
Whether chickpea rice will cut into the popularity of regular rice, low-calorie and low-carb cauliflower rice or other riced vegetables isn't clear at this point. What is clear is that manufacturers are working to create alternatives to the world's most widely eaten grain. While rice is common on plates worldwide, consumers watching their carbohydrates, concerned with the grain's propensity to absorb arsenic in soil or just looking for something else are likely to look for these alternatives. Banza's new product looks more like actual rice grains than cauliflower, which may work to its advantage.
It will be interesting to see what other substitutes for rice are dreamed up and made by manufacturers in the future — and if they will cut into rice production, which was down a bit in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics compiled by USA Rice.