How pea protein is moving beyond meat alternatives

It’s almost a staple for products on the plant-based shelf, but the health aspects could be a win for other categories too.

1 May 2019
image credit: Getty Images

Many of the products developed with the plant-based boom in mind contain pea protein, particularly when it comes to meat alternative. To name a few examples, there are Birds Eye’s meat-free burgers, sausages and Swedish meatballs, pea protein mince from Naturli’, prawn and smoked salmon from Sophie’s Kitchen and, of course, the Beyond Burger.

But closely linked to the rise in plant-based eating is the exploding interest in healthy foods, which has helped pea protein edge into areas outside the meat-free realm.

Naturally gluten-free, pulses like pea rarely trigger allergies and are linked to various wellbeing claims, from weight loss to lowering the risk of heart disease. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found overweight women who ate muffins with pea flour saw a positive impact on their cholesterol and their waistline, compared to those consuming products made with white wheat flour.

Others have suggested that ingredients like pea protein are ideal for the bakery aisle to give breads a ‘better for you’ profile boost, while university researchers have created a toolkit for food developers to create protein-powered NPD that targets the over-50 demographic.

Sneaking into snacking

Recently, pea protein has started to appear in snacks to provide products with a health halo. Take UK brand Wheyhey, which is making its debut in confectionery with high-protein Chocolate Crispy Clusters.

Apart from containing whey, the other magic ingredient is pea protein, with a bit of sugar and maltitol to sweeten things up. Wheyhey claims the clusters are “the perfect snack for the health-conscious individual craving an indulgent fix.” Per 100g, they provide 449cals, 4.9g of sugar, 10g of saturated fat and 22.7g of protein.

Due to roll out into WH Smith Travel Storesthis month, the product took 18 months of development and is the “only low-sugar, high-protein product” of its kind, according to the brand, which has a range of protein ice creams available in Tesco and Sainsbury’s as well.

Purpose Foods, which Food Spark has previously profiled, makes gut-friendly, cold-pressed bars thatfeature pea protein, while London start-up Brave incorporates roasted peas into a snack bar flavoured with chocolate and salted caramel, in what it claims is a world first.

Made with British yellow peas, the Brave bars contain 16.6g of protein per 100g and are aimed at the 72% of Brits demanding healthier foods from their everyday shop, said founders Amber and Seb Fraser-Sokol. The duo added that the bar had 50% less sugar than a typical pack of chocolate-coated nuts.

Over in America, bars have also been getting the pea protein treatment. California-based Rise has a rangethat provides 15g of protein per 60g and comes in flavours like almond honey, sunflower cinnamon, lemon cashew, snicker doodle and chocolatey coconut. Sold in Target, Whole Foods and Costco in the US, UK consumers can find them on Amazon.

Not satisfied to stick to snack bars, pea protein has also been appearing in yoghurts in the US, with Daiya’s plant-based pot serving up 8g of protein.

So why is pea protein so popular, Sparkie?


Sparkie says:

Pea protein has upsides and downsides in equal measure.

On the face of it, for the general health food community it is good because of the appearance of it being natural – despite similar processing to other protein powders.

The main downside is that it is an incomplete protein – missing out some of the essential amino acids. The way to get around this is by making blends, as most protein companies do.

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