Pea protein is sourced not from your classic, green peas (found generally in canned or frozen products at the grocery store), but rather the yellow field pea. A dried legume (also referred to as yellow split peas, and further categorized as a "pulse"), this ingredient is behind a plentiful array of food innovations on the scene, including meat-analogues, egg-less mayo, vegan protein mixes, alternative-dairy beverages, and bars.
It's just about wherever soy protein once was, pea protein has now replaced. This is a very sensible solution considering the negative perception of soy ingredients, followed by the fact it (soy) is a common food allergen in both the USA and Canada.
Not even when it comes to hats, is there a true one-size-fits-all - let alone in the approach to foods! However, if any food product comes close, it's pea protein. Pea protein has gained traction due to its high versatility in product categories, and alignment with long-term consumer trends. Of the many criteria parameters, it checks quite a few:
- Plant-based protein (Vegan-friendly)
- Sustainable protein ingredient
- Free from the Top 8 food allergens in the USA
- Free from the Top 12 food allergens in Canada
- Grown in North America
Pea protein can theoretically be derived from an array of pea species, but the yellow field pea provides several advantages over other options. These benefits are key in giving this ingredient the best chances of adoption by product developers and consumers:
(1) Nutrition: Yellow field peas offer about 22% protein content. When further processed into a protein isolate, pea protein can supply an amount ranging from 75-85% protein content. Upon closer look at its protein quality, the amino acid profile of the ingredient is impressively diverse, containing all essential and non-essential amino acids.
(2) Color: Its light yellow color results in a neutral-colored ingredient when processed into its powder form. Neutral color allows for ease in maintaining color integrity characteristic of a food product, or at least, ease in the use of color additives.
(3) Taste: Yellow field peas present less of a beany/planty/earthy taste in comparison to other species of peas. With that said, taste profile is truly unique to the proprietary processes of individual manufacturers/suppliers.
(4) Function: Pea protein is an incredibly versatile ingredient. Its uses span multiple categories for purposes of protein, dairy-alternatives, texture, and as an emulsifier.
- Ready to drink beverages (for protein, dairy-alternatives)
- Dry beverage blends (protein, dairy-alternatives)
- Bars (protein)
- Baked goods (protein)
- Extruded snacks (protein, texture)
- Dressings (protein, emulsifier, dairy-alternatives)
- Sauces (protein, emulsifier, dairy-alternatives)
- Spreads (protein, emulsifier, dairy-alternatives)
The USDA database reports a 22% protein content in yellow split peas. In other words, per 100g of as-is yellow split peas, there’s 22g of protein. When processed into pea protein, yellow field peas are milled (ground into a fine powder) and its macronutrients isolated (carbohydrates separated from protein) to yield a higher percent protein content. Protein contents for pea protein (as opposed to stand-alone yellow field peas) are generally in the 75% - 85% range at this time. In other words, per 100g of pea protein, there's a standardized 75 to 85g of protein. The remaining 15% - 25% is carbohydrates (starch, fiber, sugar) and fat.
The amino acid profile per 100g of [solely] protein derived from yellow split peas is below. For comparison purposes, also included is the amino acid profile per 100g of protein derived from whey protein. Pea protein (derived from yellow split peas) offers nearly 3X more arginine & 1.5X more glycine than protein derived from whey.
Sources: USDA Food Database: Yellow Split Peas, Goya; Now Foods, Sports: Pea Protein (Unflavored); Now Foods, Sports: Whey Protein Isolate (Unflavored).
The first-limiting (least amount) amino acid of yellow field peas is Methionine. Methionine can be consumed through a variety of sources. For purposes of reaching a protein claim, pea protein can either (1) be bumped/increased to meet the recommended intakes of the limiting essential amino acids, or (2) be combined with alternative protein sources (such as pumpkin or brown rice protein), to meet the recommended intakes of the limiting essential amino acids. More on this in a later article.
Source of Origin.
Yellow field peas are generally grown in cooler climates of North America, primarily states in the Midwest and parts of Canada. Supporting their sustainability story, yellow field peas are an ideal cover crop. In order to maintain soil health, farmers use cover crops (such as yellow field peas) to suppress weeds, diseases, and pests, protect soil from rain or runoff, and promote nitrogen fixation.
On a deeper level, the source of origin is actually a two-part story: (1) Where it's grown, and (2) Where it's manufactured. With that said, true traceability and source of origin is unique to the ingredient manufacturer/supplier.
For purposes of farming and flour milling, the source of origin is largely a North America story. Flour milling is the process of converting whole ingredients (yellow field peas) into a powder/flour, without the subtraction nor addition of nutrients outside its true-to-nature form.
For purposes of protein isolation, advancements in processing/technology has made manufacturing available (albeit limited) in the USA, and China at this time. Manufacturing capability will be expanding into Canada in the coming years.
Pea protein is a versatile ingredient, offering an impressive array of amino acids. Due to its neutral color, advancements in taste, free-from allergens statement, and non-GMO criteria, it is a practical way to add protein to nearly any food product, and makes a suitable replacement of soy protein.
To showcase its application throughout multiple categories, and/or to incorporate pea protein in one's diet, consumers can look to these products (among many others):
Meat analogues: Beyond Meat
Protein drink mixes: Vega, Garden of Life
Ready to drink beverages: Evolve, Ripple
Cheese analogues: Daiya