Peas — your morning cereal

Cereal manufacturers are looking to counter declining sales by increasing the nutritional content of their products

As the quality of processed foods faces greater scrutiny from consumers and media, the food industry has responded by focusing greater attention on improving nutrition in their products.

Cigi (Canadian International Grains institute) is currently working with an international pulse task force led by representatives from major food-processing companies, food equipment manufacturers, millers, and the pulse industry to improve the nutritional levels of foods such as breakfast cereals, instant noodles, pasta, and bread with pulse ingredients.

Heather Maskus, project manager, pulse flour milling and food applications at Cigi, is heading a project that is building on the knowledge gained from a project Cigi completed last year which investigated whether milling methods affected pulse flour and end-product quality. The current project, Advancing Pulse Processing and Applications, is funded by AAFC’s Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program and Pulse Canada.

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“We’ve been using a variety of pulse ingredients in many different applications and now we are focusing more on products that are under pressure from consumers,” Maskus says. “It’s a very targeted approach, looking at which products we can put pulses into that help overcome these nutrition and health challenges.”

Maskus recently gave a presentation on Cigi’s current work, ‘Future in Food Formulations: Why and how to balance cereal and pulse proteins in food applications’ at the American Association of Cereal Chemists International annual conference in Minneapolis. About 125 representatives from the food-processing industry, government, and universities attended the presentation which included references to media articles that are sounding the alarm about health risks related to eating breakfast cereals and instant noodles.

Declining cereal consumption

Breakfast cereals in particular are encountering increasing consumer pressure with diminishing sales, Maskus says, adding that reports indicate a 19 per cent decrease in the U.S. over the past decade. “We are positioning our work with what the perceptions are of processed foods right now. Things have changed with products such as breakfast cereals and instant noodles as consumers are questioning their nutritional value more. Not all the options on the market are healthy. Some cereals, for example, contain large amounts of sugar and are low in protein and fibre.”

Maskus says Cigi’s project has involved a strategic selection of processed foods and what will be achieved by using pulses in those products. “This means building on the protein levels, fibre, vitamins, and mineral content, and also how we could affect the glycemic response for some of these product applications.”

The study includes investigation into how extrusion processing of breakfast cereals can affect nutritional quality since this method can change starch and protein structures and how they’re digested by the body, Maskus says.

Cigi’s work with breakfast cereals currently aims to achieve five grams of quality protein in a 30-gram serving using yellow peas as an ingredient. By comparison, she says that cereals on store shelves contain about one gram of protein. Other targets include reaching five grams of fibre and hitting a medium glycemic index instead of the high index now found in retail corn-based cereal products.

So far the effect of roller milling and extrusion processing on protein content and amino acids of whole and refined yellow pea flour and whole and refined yellow pea semolina (coarse flour) has been investigated, with refined yellow pea semolina yielding the highest protein content, Maskus says. “We will continue using refined yellow pea semolina in our work to reach the protein targets by optimizing milling and processing.”

In addition, the work aims to build an understanding of functionality of the products, she says. “We have to always keep in mind that when improving the health and nutrition of a product, we still have to be aware of the quality in terms of texture and taste which is as important to consumers.”

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