The small pea is making a big splash — via increased demand — in the plant protein market.
Peas are one of the few plant-based, non-allergenic, complete proteins available, according to Markus Belz, head of R&D for BFree Foods, which uses pea protein to make breads free of gluten, eggs, and dairy.
Small, but growing fast
Soy still dominates the plant protein market. However, the increasing use of pea protein ingredients will change the global production and processing landscape, according to a March 2015 report from Frost & Sullivan. Traditionally, peas have been a direct consumption food, and the report notes that pea protein as a value-added product significantly boosts the growth prospects of pea processors and food manufacturers. The report stated, "They will have to find the adequate balance between operating in this market and catering to the direct consumption or pea flour and starch markets."
The fastest growing demand for processed pea protein is in North America. Canada and the United States lead the world in pea production but also export a large quantity for processing. A MarketsandMarkets report notes the key processors include Burcon NutraScience (Canada), Consucra-Groupe Warcoing (Belgium), Nutri-Pea Limited (Canada), Roquette (France) and SotexPro (France).
The Frost & Sullivan report predicts that to meet the high demand for pea protein, food ingredient companies will look to increase processing within the United States and Canada. In 2014 Roquette formed a partnership with World Food Processing of Iowa for distribution of pea protein in North America.
In 2014 global production of peas was 9 million metric tons, valued at $3.05 billion, while the value-added dry pea protein market was $29.9 million with sales of 20.7 thousand metric tons, according to the Frost & Sullivan report. The report predicts a compound annual growth rate of 11.3% from 2014 to 2020.
MarketsandMarkets attributes the growth of the pea protein market primarily to an increase in the number of vegetarians and vegans globally, increased lactose intolerance and allergies, and advances in extrusion technology for pea protein processing and extraction.
As the market grows, food manufacturers also have to deal with the challenges of using pea protein. Its flavor is often described as earthy, grassy, nutty or savory, and it has a grainy mouthfeel. Flavor enhancers/maskers are a necessary part of product development. The challenges of using pea protein in beverages also often include additional stabilization to avoid sedimentation and dealing with a higher viscosity.
However, more manufacturers seem to be meeting the challenges as they strive for the clean labels in demand by consumers.
About pea proteins
Pea proteins are derived from dry yellow peas (Pisum Sativum), also known as split peas. In addition to being a complete protein and free from allergens, yellow peas have no genetically modified strains and are considered an environmentally friendly crop.
The three main types of pea protein are isolates, concentrates and textured. Textured is further divided into dry textured and wet textured protein based on how it's extracted. Dry textured pea protein is used in meat analogs, extenders and substitutes, and MarketsandMarkets estimated textured pea protein is the fastest growing segment. However, pea protein isolates dominated the pea protein market in 2013, with a wide range of uses in baked goods, confectionery, beverages and snacks.
One use of pea protein is as an emulsifier. The high content of hydrophilic amino acids gives the processed protein a high foaming capacity that's useful for tenderizing food, creating a spongy texture and decreasing the bulk density of a food product. Pea protein can serve as an egg substitute in some products.