Aakashraj Bhople• Corporate Engagement Associate • May 31 2024

Takeaways from GFIdeas India webinar on Unlocking the Potential of Pulses: Innovations in Smart Proteins

At GFI India, we have long been uplifting pulses and legumes as potential ingredients for smart protein products, and while global plant-based alternative brands are slowly taking notice, this revolution is yet to make its mark in India. Technological advances and market opportunities exist, and to shed light on the same, we hosted a webinar to “unlock” the potential of pulses in smart protein innovation in India. In a time where we are trying to achieve environmental sustainability along with global food and nutritional security, the webinar provided a forum for expert discussions on how pulses, are emerging as critical components in the development of smart protein solutions.



Pulses at the frontlines of sustainability and nutrition

Pulses, such as lentils, chickpeas, and various types of beans, have long been a part of diets around the world and particularly in India due to their high nutritional value and health benefits. Beyond their nutritional benefits, pulses are indigenous to India and can be grown sustainably due to their low water requirement, climate resilience, and ability to fix nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilisers. 


The webinar emphasised these hardy crops’ ability to address both the climate crisis and food security, making them even more relevant today as the world seeks comprehensive and cross-cutting solutions to some of the most pressing issues that plague our planet. Mr. Vijay Iyengar of the Global Pulse Confederation (GPC) presented a global perspective on the role of pulses in environmental sustainability as low-input crops that improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Pulses, which are high in proteins, fibre, vitamins, and minerals, can help address malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies in populations around the world. Mr. Umesh Rode, Senior Manager of Applications and Development at Proeon Foods, drew attention to how conventional eggs present a number of health risks and sustainability concerns, including high cholesterol, allergenicity, and environmental costs such as high greenhouse gas emissions and extensive land and water use. There is a risk of contamination from veterinary drugs, dioxins, pesticides, and heavy metals, which, combined with ethical concerns about animal welfare, emphasises the need for better alternatives.


With the demand for meat and other animal-sourced proteins steadily increasing and no sustainable way of meeting the expected demand, pulses can play a pivotal role in plugging the protein gap without exacerbating resource scarcity. Pulses can be processed into functional ingredients for application in plant-based meat, dairy, and eggs, creating avenues for innovation and economic growth while also serving the taste and nutrition preferences of consumers. 


India’s unique position


Dr. Pranesh Sridharan, Chief Innovation Officer at the newly launched Alternative Proteins Innovation Center (APIC), emphasised India’s strategic advantage as a producer of 25% of the world’s pulses, with over 20 different types grown across its diverse agro-climatic zones. This diversity enriches the nation’s dietary fabric while positioning us as a key player in the global pulse protein industry. The diverse pulse types result in a variety of protein ingredients, each with different functional properties that can be tailored to specific food applications in plant based meat, egg, and dairy alternatives.


He provided an overview of how the entire value chain of pulse proteins—from raw material sources to cutting-edge extraction methods—has the potential to transform how these proteins are incorporated into smart protein products. Highlighting the need for indigenisation and localisation of equipment manufacturing in India, Dr. Sridharan demonstrated how the country can significantly reduce the capital expenditure required to establish pulse protein extraction facilities. This approach would make scaling up production easier, allowing for more experimentation and customisation in pulse protein extraction technologies.


There is an opportunity to significantly impact both national and global food systems by advancing extraction technologies and capitalising on India’s diverse pulse production. The transition to more sophisticated processing techniques promises to unleash pulses’ full potential as a versatile and sustainable source of protein for smart protein applications.


Can pulses be the new meat and eggs?


Plant-based alternatives aim to mimic traditional animal-based foods in texture and taste while also providing significant environmental and health benefits. Mr. Umesh highlighted the progress in plant-based egg alternatives made from mung beans, a rapidly growing segment of the smart protein sector. While the industry has come a long way from the first generation of soya nuggets and soya chaap, there is a need to improve our ability to produce these smart protein products across the value chain—all the way from crop optimisation to texturisation, protein processing, formulation, and functionality.


Mr. Umesh discussed the technical requirements for successfully replicating animal-based proteins with plant-based alternatives, focusing on the following key areas:


  • Solubility is critical for ensuring that plant-based proteins can be easily incorporated into a variety of food products at lower mixing costs and with better sensory attributes.
  • Emulsification is essential for products that require the combination of oil and water, such as mayonnaise and dressings, as plant proteins can provide shelf stability and consistency.
  • Gelling is necessary for producing the desired texture in products such as yoghurts, desserts, and plant-based egg alternatives.
  • Water and oil holding capacity are important for preserving the juiciness and mouthfeel of plant-based meats and other moist foods.
  • Foaming capacity and stability are essential for aerating products like meringues and whipped toppings.


Dr. Sridharan also shed light on the technical aspects of pulse processing, which are critical for improving their quality and functionalities in the smart protein sector:

  • Pre-processing techniques: Pulverising, germination, and dehusking prepare pulses for more efficient protein extraction, resulting in higher yield and functionality of the end products.
  • Extraction processes: Tailoring the extraction process, optimising reactor design, and parameter settings for different pulse types can greatly improve the quality and functionality of extracted proteins.
  • Enzyme utilisation: Different enzyme treatments during processing can improve protein extraction yield and functional properties, along with the removal of off-notes causing compounds.


Mr. Iyengar advocated for increased investment in R&D to continue improving the quality and functionality of pulse proteins through the following means:


  • Breeding better pulse varieties that are high yielding, more resistant to climate change, and have improved taste and texture profiles suitable for a wide range of culinary applications.
  • Creating innovative processing techniques that preserve or improve the nutritional and functional properties of pulses, making them more versatile for use in a wider range of products.
  • Highlighting successful case studies and products that use pulse proteins to demonstrate pulses’ practical applications and benefits in order to build consumer trust and acceptance.


Driving consumer acceptance and adoption


Overcoming consumer barriers such as taste, texture, and overall product appeal is still a significant challenge, according to Mr. Umesh. However, by continuously innovating and improving the functionalities of plant-based proteins and diversifying the sources, these products are increasingly meeting consumer expectations. Proeon Foods, for example, has been at the forefront of developing next-generation plant proteins with superior taste, texture, and nutritional profiles, making them appealing to a wider audience.


While pulses are traditionally regarded as an essential component of vegetarian diets, there is significant opportunity to position them as a mainstream choice for everyone, not just those following plant-based or vegetarian diets. Mr. Iyengar emphasised the need for novel marketing strategies to bring pulses into the mainstream and broaden their market base to meat eaters and flexitarians. He advocated for campaigns that educate consumers on the health and environmental benefits of pulses.


A pulse on the future of smart protein


Ending the conversation on a positive and forward looking note, Mr. Rode impressed that with ongoing research and development to improve the quality and functionality of plant-based proteins, they will soon compete with, and even outperform, their animal-based counterparts on the market.



For those working in pulse processing, as well as for entrepreneurs and scientists who wish to learn more about the immense potential of pulse valorisation in the smart protein sector, the webinar discussions provided pivotal takeaways and a roadmap for the future. Pulses’ potential in addressing food security and sustainability issues makes a compelling case for their increased and more functionalised use in smart protein applications. The expert insights from all panellists highlighted pulses’ diverse applications and environmental benefits while underscoring the importance of continuous innovation and strategic marketing towards a more sustainable, nutritious, and protein-rich future.


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