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New Uses for Pulses: Improving Nutrition and Health of Cereal-based Foods

People in the pulse trade know the value of pulses. The good news is that people in the prepared food business are discovering the value of pulses too. Work is underway to ensure that the pulse industry is prepared to answer the kind of questions that food companies will ask, such as “How can pulses be used in foods popular with consumers?”.

The pulse industry must be ready to demonstrate that versatile pulse ingredients are a good fit with whatever foods are trending locally, nationally and regionally.

Making flour is more than pounding something into dust. Researchers at the Canadian International Grains Institute have been focused on creating pulse flours using a variety of milling technologies including hammer, stone, pin and roller mills to look at the impact that various milling techniques and conditions have on flour quality. The purpose of the pulse milling project is to develop recommendations for the milling industry to supply consistent and highly functional pulse flours that meets the demands of the commercial food industry.

Initial results indicate that flour quality, both physical and functional characteristics, is affected by the milling method used. For instance, there is a range of particle size in flours. From a food processors perspective, consistent particle size and a narrow range of particle size is one key to consistent results when manufacturing foods. The roller milling method, the same method used in wheat flour mills around the world, yielded a flour granulation with the greatest consistency of particle size.

With food companies seeking alternative ingredient sources with high protein, high fibre or gluten free status, pulses have grown in popularity as a food ingredient that can change health outcomes and improve nutrition.

With enhanced knowledge of how milling technology impacts flour quality, the next step of the pulse milling project is testing the performance of pulse flours in an assortment of food applications including pasta, noodles, baked goods, and puffed snacks. Since pulse flours are showing different properties related to particle size, starch damage and water hydration, it is important to understand the impact the flours can have in a range of foods that have different measures of quality such as the degree of expansion in puffed snacks, sufficient coverage for battered meat products, or “spreading” when cookies are baked in the oven.

Cookies made with 20% whole yellow pea flour. (L-R: control, pin mill, roller mill, stone mill, hammer mill)

As an example, the CIGI Bakery formulated cookies using 20% pea flour. There were significant differences in the spread and thickness of the cookies. These differences were most apparent in the hammer and roller milled cookies. It is expected that variations in milling conditions would result in changes to the physical and functional properties of the flours and therefore changes in the characteristics of the end product.

Understanding the specification of pulse flours that best meets the end product application will be critical to successful commercialization of pulse flours in a range of processed foods. Further testing of pea flours in product applications will continue at Cigi and other food development centres, and work will continue to optimize the value of the stream of flours that could be produced using roller mill equipment.

This Canadian milling project is funded by Agriculture Agri-Food Canada, Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, Alberta Pulse Growers and the Canadian Special Crops Association. For more information on the Pulse Flour Milling project, a recorded webcast is available for viewing at