Sprouted and fermented: the plant-based protein made from split peas

Swedish start-up Bärta has used the tempeh technique to create a new meat alternative for burgers, skewers and more.

2 January 2019
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The search for plant-based proteins has taken some experimental turns in the past year, from Just’s mung-bean-based scrambled egg alternative to Plantible Foods’ duckweed.

Among the newcomers hoping to make a mark on the meat-free market is Swedish brand Bärta, the freshly minted winner of a best new product award at the Nordic Organic Food Fair.

Made from yellow split peas, it incorporates several health proposals, among them a gluten-free label. Inspired by the technique used to create meat alternative tempeh, the legumes are first sprouted, before being cooked and fermented for several days using the fungus Rhizopus oligosporus.

Founder Pia Qvarnström has steadily evolved the process since first selling her veggie protein alongside nut yoghurts out of a food truck in Stockholm. Four years on, she has just completed branding for Bärta, in preparation for a retail push.

A textured approach

Though Qvarnström is entering an increasingly competitive and crowded category – fellow Swede Oumph is already a success in Scandinavia and debuted in the UK last year – she believes her product has several unique selling points.

“Compared to the normal soy isolate products, I would say it tastes much better,” she says. “It’s organic and it’s a whole food product, so it’s very low processed and better in that way. And if you compare it to a steak made of peas or lentils or whatever, you’ll get a very different texture because of the fermentation. You get the meat-like texture, but it’s not processed.”

Described as having a “nutty umami flavour and a mild sweetness from the peas,” Bärta is sold predominantly in three frozen formats: burger patties, chilli and lime chunks for skewers, and unseasoned (dubbed Natural). It also comes in a smoked, ready-to-eat version designed for consumption as cold cuts or in sandwiches.

“Since we keep the fibres and the carbohydrates in the product, [Bärta] has a more varied texture, and it’s better to soak up marinades and stuff,” notes Qvarnström, adding, “It’s juicier.”

Currently, the product is sold directly through a select number of channels, from health food stores in Gothenburg to vegan cafes in Stockholm, as well as via wholesalers. In February, however, Sweden’s biggest online store will begin to stock Bärta.

“The plan is to grow on the Swedish market first, so people are able to find our product everywhere – we hope to achieve that next year – and then to upscale the production,” remarks Qvarnström. “Hopefully, we can do it quite fast, so we are able to export quite quickly… We hope the brand will be known to the everyday Swede – not in a year, of course, but in a few years. It’s not going to be a speciality food product but something that people enjoy no matter what you eat every day.”


In other plant-based burger news...

  • Nestlé is gearing up to release a soy and wheat protein patty under its Garden Gourmet brand in the spring. Dubbed the Incredible Burger, it is part of a raft of experiments being conducted by the Swiss company's R&D team, alongside a walnut-based blueberry-flavoured 'milk' and a latte brewed with spirulina algae. 
  • Miami Burger will debut its concept in Reading this week, vending soy-based burgers and hot dogs that the founders claim contain 78% and 76% less saturated fat respectively than the average high street version.
  • In the US, chain Carl's Jr. is offering a limited edition burger made with Beyond Meat's 'bleeding' plant-based patty. Dubbed the Beyond Famous Star, the burger will be on sale throughout January at 1,100 outlets and costs $3.6 more than the standard beef version.

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