Drink Your Peas, Please!

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist and director of the Western Regional Research Center (Albany, CA), Tara McHugh and her team in the Healthy Processed Foods Research Unit are experts at solving food-manufacturing problems. Using cutting-edge processing technologies, they have helped numerous small businesses, such as Ripple Foods, turn ideas into products for the consumer.

ARS is helping Ripple Foods optimize its current pea protein drying process to make it more efficient and to further improve its products. The company manufactures its own pea protein by processing yellow split peas into a liquid form and then isolating, purifying, and drying the protein. The pea protein is then made into non-dairy milks, protein shakes, half and half, ice cream, and other products.

The drying step is necessary because producing this clean-tasting plant protein in a wet state comes with challenges: It’s difficult to transport, has a greater risk for microbial spoilage, and has handling issues, McHugh said.

“It’s also expensive to ship all over the country, so we are working to optimize the drying process—looking at a way to dehydrate it so it can be rehydrated to save expenses,” she said. “The drying process also may even improve the quality and flavor of the final product.”

Ripple Foods has a cooperative research and development agreement with ARS, which assists the company in data gathering and analysis on different aspects of its pea beverage. “Ripple’s mission is to make plant-based foods delicious,” said Aminah Johnston, a process engineer with the company. “We are always looking for ways to make our protein and products better. Our collaboration with ARS has been extremely helpful.”

This kind of research not only supports small businesses and U.S. growers, but also reduces waste and increases consumption of healthy foods.—By Sandra Avant, formerly with USDA-ARS Office of Communications.

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