Agriculture A Tool Kit to Help Scientists Find the Ultimate Chickpea
Potatoes, black beans, beef, milk, milk, lentils and green vegetables. They’re just some of the staples that British and Irish farmers use to raise a certain number of livestock animals and on which they base their own cooking. Chickpeas are a staple for another reason: they grow and thrive, often more quickly than other legumes, in poor conditions – and the results are enough to make a health conscious meat eater want to de-congest the couch in their living room.
From their sticky, leathery exterior to their plentiful protein levels, rich in folate and iron and best known as a meat and dairy substitute, they might just be the ultimate legume.
In recent years, there’s been a good deal of attention paid to legumes as a food source. That attention comes not only because their impacts on health and climate change are generally thought to be positive, but also because legumes have historically been overlooked as viable sources of alternative food. And, when chefs like Toffee & Nut move towards incorporating legumes into their menus, it signals a heightened awareness of the role legumes play as a primary food source.
Still, while some of us might be thinking about legumes (or at least inventing legume recipes), scientists haven’t. Not only that, there are limits to what we know about legumes – and for a scientist to do something entirely new with a food, there needs to be a new insight into its uses.
That’s why researcher Jackson Dryden collaborated with fellow professors David Agresta and Jan Makowski and Sandwich Foods to turn a farming technique known as conversion of carbon to yield into a scalable way of processing chickpeas, making them tastier and more versatile. To reach this goal, the scientists deconstructed the farming process for the farmer – showing them how to collect a lot of carbon out of the carbon content of a chickpea, such that the final product is more carbon-based than once seemed possible. In the process, the scientists could infuse the chickpeas with some of the flavor they picked out, as well as new nutrients.
From that, they’ve created an extract of chickpeas that now makes up the common ingredient called Sherry oil. Sherry oil, a fortified commercial oil, can be used on many different legumes – including most legumes eaten in the UK. But when the scientists looked at their mixture they found that they were able to infuse the seed with a few new nutrients.
With this outcome in mind, Dryden and team knew they needed a more adaptable food to reproduce their findings. What better way to expand the technology than with chickpeas?
That’s how six prototypes were cobbled together to create a broad-based chickpea. A 60kg high-potency corn cob provided some external structure to support the fragile, early meal. With a surface for the chickpeas to capture and soak in the carbon-wicking strips, the beginnings of a fortified chickpea could be made. The coral-like texture of the corn cob allows these two carbon-washing applications to remain separate – so if you combine the omega-3 fatty acids from chickpeas with the cholesterol- and vitamin-rich, nutritional qualities of corn, you get something like Omega-3 beans.
This next step is not new. In fact, similar technologies are used to produce noodles and cakes. Chicken, however, hasn’t quite fallen in the footnotes of R&D yet, perhaps because poultry is pretty common and the idea of turning a chicken into a peanut, say, is more of a curiosity than a treat.
It seems inevitable, however, that in a world where human health is more important than ever, that chicken will be brought closer to being able to reproduce its source, and perhaps we will see ingredients like chickpeas on the menu of our favourite restaurants in the future. And one day, we may even be eating something similar to Chickpea Fumie, Oreo Oat Biscuits, Chicken and Rice and Chicken Cornbread.