Canada, as the second largest producer of lentils in the world after India and the world’s biggest exporter, is well-positioned to be at the forefront of ingredient innovation based on the pulse. However, most of the finished product innovation is currently happening in Europe.
“You see a lot more snacks like crisps and chips that are starting to incorporate lentil,” says Janelle Courcelles, Director of Quality and Processing at trade association Pulse Canada. “You would suspect this might happen a bit more in North America, where a lot of the ingredient processing and production is taking place, but It’s really interesting to see that Europe is an innovator in lentil ingredients. Europe is actually the biggest innovator for processed lentils compared to the rest of the world.”
From Buddha Bowls to breakfast cereal
Sustainable, nutritious, clean label and functional, lentils can add easily a health halo to traditionally indulgent snacks, with recent product launches including Swiss brand Migros’ sweet chili lentil chips or the UK’s Eat Real, which launched chili and lemon flavour lentil chips.
Brands are also using lentils to produce simple yet convenient pantry basics that are traditionally carb-heavy. German brand Davert, for instance, has developed minimally-processed red lentil rice while Italian pasta giant Barilla launched lentil spaghetti. Both products draw consumers’ attention to the high protein content with on-pack nutrition claims.
Lentils are also being used as a hidden, ‘stealth health’ tool to boost protein, fibre and nutrient density in better-for-you ready meals across all price ranges. German hard discounter Lidl blends lentils and durum wheat to boost the protein and fibre content of the couscous in its on-the-go Buddha bowl, for instance, while UK retailer Sainsbury’s swaps meat for lentils in its premium Taste the Difference cottage pie with red wine gravy and buttery mash.
Beyond nutrition, lentil ingredients can bring functional benefits, such as in meat-based products and crispy coatings. Lentil flour and fibre have oil and water retention properties that act as binders in meat systems, reducing cooking losses and improving the texture of low-fat formulations while in batters and coatings, it improves the golden colour and crispy texture of fried products. Frozen food brand Findus adds lentil flour to its American-Style chilli pepper chicken wings, for instance, and British retailer Mark & Spencer uses it in its lightly battered cod and sea bass fillets.
A growing number of brands are also thinking outside the box, taking advantage of lentils’ subtle and relatively neutral taste profile by incorporating them into sweet products. French cereal brand Grillon d’Or adds 30% green lentil flour to its chocolate breakfast cereal targeted towards children. It makes a prominent front-of-pack claim about the lentil content, indicating that consumers are attracted to the use of lentils in sweet applications.
Mintel: An ‘obvious choice’ for plant power claims
Market data from Mintel shows that just under one in 10 global bakery, snack and cereal launches contained pulses or pulse flour between May 2020 and April 2021, and the market research company is confident this will rise.
Katya Witham, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel, said:
“For many reasons, pulses should be an obvious choice for manufacturers of bakery, snacks and cereals who are looking to bolster the ‘plant power’ halo of their products. Pulses are widely recognised and accepted by consumers globally as a plant-based source of protein and other nutrients. They can be grown sustainably and are generally cost-effective.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic should be a catalyst for increased inclusion of pulses in this space.”
Wide range of ingredients available
Brands can currently choose from an array of ingredients to work with, from whole lentil flour that has a high fibre and protein content thanks to the inclusion of the hull to lentil grits that add texture and are ideal for extruded products.
“There is a big array of ingredients based on lentils and I think there will be more going forward,” said Courcelles. “Lentil proteins are starting to emerge and while there is not a commercially available lentil isolate on market yet – this would be greater than 80 or 90% protein content – there is a lot of work being done on the research and academia side evaluating these ingredients. They do have really great properties and I do see the potential that in five years we might see more popping up.”
Incorporating lentil flour into processed products is also an easy way for manufacturers to boost not only the nutritional profile of the product but also its environmental footprint, and this can be a major selling-point for sustainably-minded consumers. Pulse Canada has made pasta, pan bread and breakfast cereals with lentil flour at inclusion rates that do not impact taste or functionality. It then carried out life cycle assessments and found there were significant environmental benefits.