Pea Flour—Looks Good on the Label but Doesn’t Digest

Manufacturers are increasingly using pea flour in the production of low-carbohydrate foods. These days you’ll find it in pasta, chips, cookies, energy bars, and even dog food. Because it’s up to 28% protein, pea flour looks good on an ingredient label, but there’s a catch. It’s indigestible. We’ll look at why this questionable practice got started, but first let’s see why pea flour is also unpalatable and not recommended for the increasing number of people with compromised digestion.green peas

The Musical Fruit

Most people know from firsthand experience that dried legumes like peas and pinto beans can challenge digestion. Like string beans and sugar snap peas, when they are immature and fresh, legumes are a nutritious delight. But once those seeds are fully mature and dry, they develop antinutrients including lectins, phytic acid, tannins, and polyphenols. To mitigate these mild toxins, dried peas and beans are traditionally soaked, possibly sprouted, and definitely cooked. Then, if your digestion is good, you can assimilate their nutrients and enjoy their hearty, sweet flavor.

In the past few decades, enough savvy consumers stopped buying foods with soybean fillers that manufacturers scrambled for a replacement. Pea and other legume flours were the obvious choice. They were high in protein and dirt cheap, but the problem was flavor. While you would tuck into a bowl of split pea soup, you’d pass on a bowl of raw (and indigestible) pea flour.

Plasticized Pea Flour

If you try making pasta out of bean flour you’ll get a goopy mess. So even though a spaghetti label rightly claims that bean flour is the sole ingredient, common sense tells us that something extraordinary has happened to that flour.

Here’s how technology resolved the taste and texture problem. Legume flour is moistened (and optionally flavored and colored), and then extruded through a die under high temperature and pressure to plasticize it (an industry term). This yields aerated shapes with a range of textures from crispy for a puffed bean chip to pasta that will cook al dent. While extrusion “cooking” reduces some of pea flour’s antinutrients, it doesn’t reduce them all.

My hunch is that history will repeat itself, and in a decade or so, studies will finally reveal that pea flour is as noxious as other high-tech soy products. Given the clout of advertising and that we’re creatures of habit, this process is typically slow. Not long ago, many informed pet owners assiduously bought soy-free dog food—but kept stirring soy (textured vegetable protein) into their sloppy Joes. How incongruous—but lucky for Fido.

So have a close look at ingredients. If pea flour is included, pass on it. Also pass on pea protein powder which is typically processed with caustic and flammable toluene. Whether it’s yellow, green, pigeon, or generic pea flour, you don’t want it. This means that you might be standing in the snack aisle for a long time reading labels without finding a high-protein treat without pea flour. What to do?

Here’s a simple solution. Enjoy a tasty traditional bean dish (or other protein) with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then when it’s snack time, an apple is a true delight.

Notes:

I invite soy intolerant people to take a closer look at, for example, Explore Cuisine’s black bean spaghetti. The back of the package states that the sole ingredient is organic black beans, but that it: “contains soy.” Sound tricky? In common usage, black beans refer to the pinto bean relative (Phaseolus vulgaris) whereas a black variety of soy (Glycine max) is distinguished as black soy bean. Unless, that is, you’re apparently concerned that “soy” on the package front would reduce sales.

The only company I’m aware of that produces canned beans that excludes the beans’ soaking water (and therefore many antinutrients) is Eden Foods. Yes, it is the same company that has packed their beans in bisphenol-A (BPA) free can linings since 1999 and spearheaded that important movement.

References

https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/foodmicrostructure/vol10/iss3/3/

https://www.usapulses.org/core/files/usapulses/uploads/files/Chapter4.pdf

7 Responses to Pea Flour—Looks Good on the Label but Doesn’t Digest

    • You are correct, chickpea flour is used in, primarily, Indian flatbreads (however wheat flatbreads are more common). The relevant question is: how well are you digesting chickpea flour? As will all dried legumes, it contains anti nutrients that challenge one’s digestion. It appears that many contemporary people have compromised gastrointestinal function.

  1. Hmmm. So I’m guessing that the 100% lentil pasta now on the market poses the same problem? Would you suggest passing on it?
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and wisdom and suggestions!

  2. I’m glad I saw this. I started making my own gluten free bread and took out a couple of bread maker cookbooks. One of the cookbook has pea flour as an ingredient. Is there something I can replace the pea flour with and still have the recipe gluten free?

    • The only reason pea flour is in the recipe is for its perceived value as a protein source. It doesn’t enhance the bread with flavor and it gives it a more dense, heavy and moist texture. Find a different recipe. Or substitute another “flour” for the pea flour. Good luck. Making a decent gluten-free bread is a challenge.

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