Fargo, N.D. — If you have ever been curious about where the idea for your breakfast cereal or snack food originated, it may have been in a lab like the one at Harris Hall where Clifford Hall conducts his research.
Hall, associate professor in the School of Food Systems and interim technical director of the Northern Crops Institute, researches how North Dakota crops, such as beans, peas and flax, can be used in nontraditional ways.
Grinding dried beans, puffing them and coating them with cheese, for example, produces a food similar to Cheetos, which are made from corn, he explained. And protein from peas can replace eggs in baked goods such as cakes, cookies and muffins. “Most people don’t think of peas and eggs functioning the same way, but they can in baking applications,” Hall said.
The advantage of using dried beans in snack food is the high fiber, micronutrient and protein content that starchy snacks lack, Hall said. He sees commercial potential for bean-based snacks in Southeast Asia where consumers prefer natural foods. “Products made from beans and peas are of interest because these commodities are currently produced using traditional agricultural methods,” Hall said.
People who have egg allergies and vegans are possible consumers for products that replace eggs with pea protein. If a product doesn’t contain eggs, the food manufacturer can leave the egg allergen warning off the food label, Hall said. Pea protein is also less expensive than eggs.
But does pea-protein cake taste good? “The sensory evaluations have been positive,” Hall said. “They are comparable to egg cake.” In November 2011, Hall invited people on campus to taste test cookies and cake made with the pea protein instead of eggs. In physical measurements, products made from eggs fared better; however, taste testers liked the baked goods made from pea protein more than the cakes made with eggs. “The moist texture was one reason why panelists liked the cakes containing pea protein,” Hall said.
Hall, who has a sensitivity to eggs, uses pea protein in his own kitchen for pancakes, waffles and muffins. “I’m a guinea pig to my own research,” he said.
The goal of Hall’s research isn’t to produce a commercial product, but to prove that the ingredients can be made into an affordable food that looks and tastes good. Food manufacturers then use the research to develop the products consumers see in stores. About a decade ago, for example, Hall and Frank Manthey researched using flax in pasta. Since then, food manufacturers have developed flax-enriched pasta.
His research on bean-based snack foods and pea-protein as egg replacer bodes well for North Dakota farmers. North Dakota is the No. 1 producer of dried peas and several types of dried beans.