Chickpeas are the protein rich ingredient set to star

Posted by Cat Woods on 10th October 2018

A skyrocketing interest in chickpeas as a star ingredient in traditionally dairy, bean or wheat-based products is good news for health conscious consumers and for Australian agriculture.

For the health-conscious consumer, chickpeas are a rich source of iron, magnesium, fibre and protein.

They’ve been a staple of vegetarian meals for centuries and it’s no surprise that over 80 per cent of Australian chickpeas are exported to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where vegetable curries and dhals are everyday meals.

For farmers, chickpeas are the ideal crop: fixing nitrogen in the soil, controlling diseases, pests and weeds and boosting the health of surrounding cereal crops.

“Plant-based protein from pulses such as chickpeas are not only an economical way to provide the world with a source of protein for human consumption, but it is an environmentally sustainable solution as well,” says Chris Blanchard, Director of Australian Research Council’s Training Centre for Functional Grains.

“Growing pulses such as chickpeas in our farming systems reduces our reliance on nitrogen-based fertilisers.”

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AgriFutures Australia report that in 2016, Australian chickpea production reached 2,000,000 tonnes of primarily the Desi variety (commonly used in dhal). Kabuli chickpeas reap a much higher price and have more stringent requirements to go to market as these are primarily eaten whole.

Chickpeas have proven adaptable and attractive as an alternative to wheat-based wraps, pastas and burger bases as well as being turned into tofu and protein powders.

The rise in demand for vegan foods has driven the alternative market in plant-based proteins and gluten free foods. Statista measures the market for vegan packaged foods at a value of approximately $184 million in 2018, projected to reach $215 million by 2020.

Victorian Eat Well Foods produce a variety of plant-based foods, many containing Australian chickpeas, including vegetable sausages with chickpea and spinach to vegetable burgers containing herbs, spices and chickpea. They also began making and retailing chickpea tofu in 2016.

San Remo, best known for their pasta, are currently selling Pulse Chickpea Spirals – claiming they are using chickpea flour to provide a protein-rich alternative to wheat. The protein content of chickpeas is twice that of wheat.

McKenzies make chickpea flour, which can be used in everything from pastas to cakes, biscuits, muffins and in burger and falafel mix.

Chickpeas are low in fat, low GI and have a nutty, distinctive flavour. Whether as a flour, whole, diced, canned, fresh or powdered, there will be few supermarket aisles bereft of this adaptable ingredient.