|Pea protein is on-trend for 2017. We're delighted that the sustainability benefits of vegetable protein and the naturally high levels in dried peas (rather than fresh or frozen) are being recognised but believe that minimally processed whole peas, split peas and pea flour have most to offer both nutritionally and for their taste and versatility.|
Suddenly pea protein is all the rage. In a pun-filled recent article – "Give peas a chance: why pea protein is leading the whey" – the Guardian last week reported that pea protein is one of the leading food trends for 2017.
It's good to see this overdue recognition of the benefits of the naturally high level of protein in dried peas, which are typically 20% or more protein by weight, just like beans, lentils, chickpeas and other pulses. Vegetable protein is healthier, more nutritious and more sustainable than animal protein. And natural food sources of vegetable protein are generally much cheaper than the meat and dairy products that provide animal protein.
In Britain we generally think of peas as fresh or frozen green peas but dried peas are among our most traditional foods and are nutritionally - and gastronomically - superior to their fresh siblings.
Fresh peas are picked immature, when they're temptingly sweet and succulent but before the proteins and other nutrients have fully developed. Dried peas are left to ripen, mature and dry before harvest (they're naturally dried while still on the plant), by which time the protein content has both increased and improved in quality, much of the sugar has turned to more complex carbohydrates, and there's much more fibre, vitamins and minerals.
While fresh or frozen peas are an appealingly sweet fresh vegetable, dried peas offer far greater variety and versatility in the kitchen. British farmers like Mark Lea at Green Acres Farm grow a wide range of dried peas including yellow, blue, greenish marrowfat and red-brown carlin peas. We clean them up after harvest and sell them as whole peas, split peas, pea flour and roasted snack peas.
In the kitchen dried peas can be used for dhal, soups, stews, curries, chillis, salads, dips or or even cakes and brownies. Not to mention pease pudding and pottage, daily staples of our ancestors. Pea flour is wonderfully versatile, making wonderful pastry, pancakes and breads, as well as the best gravy we've tasted.
The Guardian's article focused on processed pea products such as pea milk, purified pea protein powders and artificial "meat" concocted from ingredients including pea protein isolates. It pointed out that the problem with purified pea protein is that many of the other nutrients are lost.
We at Hodmedod prefer to get our pea protein from the complete pea, sometimes with just the skin removed to produce split peas, pea flour or roasted snack peas. At 20% there's still plenty of protein in the peas, along with plenty of healthy fibre (about 40%) and micro-nutrients like thiamin, folate, potassium and manganese.
We've been eating dried peas in Britain for at least 4,000 years. It's fantastic to see them coming back into fashion.
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Last year (field scale chickpea production year 2) was a real struggle: drought through much of the season, intense heat in late May, then extraordinary rainfall in August. This year (chickpea year 3) hasn’t started much better to be honest: a cold start and prolonged wet conditions are not what chickpeas like.