It’s no secret that in recent years pulse crops have become the ace up southern Saskatchewan’s sleeve. Pulses, which include lentils, chickpeas, dried peas and beans, offer a myriad of benefits for Saskatchewan farmers. They are resilient, environmentally sustainable, and can be grown in rotation with grains and oilseeds to disrupt disease and insect cycles. However, perhaps the biggest strength of pulse crops is their high protein, high fiber makeup, which place them on the cutting edge of the race to solve world hunger.

Regina Hosts the Nation

This July, Regina hosted the 2018 Pulse and Special Crops Convention, bringing more than 400 delegates and visitors from 21 countries. The convention aims to connect producers with buyers and identify new market opportunities, and is the largest of its kind in North America. While the convention is held in different cities across the country each year, it is fitting that this year it fell in Regina, a central hub for pulse productions and home to global pulse supplier giant AGT Food & Ingredients.

This year’s convention was an important one, as it came on the heels of the federal government’s announcement that Protein Industries Canada (headquartered in Regina) will receive roughly $150 million in federal funding to advance research and development in the area of plant-based proteins.

The Power of Protein

“One of the hot drivers in food marketing over the last five years or more has been protein content,” said Pulse Canada CEO Gordon Bacon. “You see protein claims on breakfast cereals, nutrition bars, you even see protein in beverages. So it makes sense that the Canadian prairies and Saskatchewan becomes a centre of attention in taking a look at how plant-based foods can find new applications.”

Those new applications are proving to be true examples of disruptive innovation. Lee Moats, Chairman of the Board for Pulse Canada, is confident that the future of food will rely heavily on pulses. As consumer trends show movement away from meat consumption, the desire to include high-protein foods is stronger than ever. Even in instances where they are not replacing other types of foods, pulses are being used to enhance them.

“One of the things that’s very interesting is combining cereal grains with pulse ingredients to create a whole new kind of bread as an example. One that includes all the value that you get from a wheat-based flour, but also has this great addition of pulses,” said Moats. “It’s the same thing when it comes to meat. You could include things like lentil puree in your hamburger. You end up with a great tasting beef hamburger but with the goodness of pulses, so its fat content goes down and its fiber content goes up.”

Embracing the Food Future

Examples of this type of creative incorporation are common in Regina. Last year the city held a competition to encourage local restaurants to feature pulses in their dishes. Local pub Victoria’s Tavern took home first prize, and the demand for their lentil corn dog was so strong the dish ended up becoming an official fixture on their menu.

As suppliers and food scientists alike look to the future, one thing is clear: pulse popularity is here to stay. With southern Saskatchewan’s prime location and robust growing conditions, and the federal government's strategic supercluster investment, the Greater Regina Area is perfectly positioned to be the first step on the global protein highway.

“Healthy people, healthy planet,” said Moats, “That’s where pulses fit in”.