Scientists Developing ‘Flavorless Peas’ as Soy Substitute for Plant-Based Foods
With increasing demand for plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy, researchers in the UK are looking for more sustainable alternatives to imported soy beans. They are working to develop a new kind of pea that lacks the typical flavor of peas and could be a more neutral-tasting substitute.
“The world has changed,” Claire Domoney, a scientist at John Innes Centre, said in a statement. “People increasingly want plant-based protein in their diets rather than from animals. So flavorless peas have suddenly become flavor of the day.”
Domoney and other scientists at John Innes Centre first identified a gene for flavorless peas in the 1990s while trying to develop peas that would taste fresh for longer. But their research was stopped, because the peas were becoming flavorless, and there wasn’t a demand at the time.
But now, as the UK imports around 4 million metric tons of soy per year, the research has been rebooted. According to governmental organization Innovate UK, demand for plant-based meats is growing about 30% per year. Cheese and milk alternatives are seeing even more growth, at 40% to 50%, respectively. While soy is often used to make these products, much of the imported soy is sourced from South America and has been linked to rainforest deforestation, as BBC reported.
Instead, making peas without flavor could result in protein-packed, plant-based products that are more sustainable. They can be grown locally and require less nitrogen fertilizer, as this crop sends more nitrogen back into the soil. It can improve soil health for future plantings, as explained by Germinal Horizon, who is involved with the Pea Protein project of developing flavorless peas.
“Finding a sustainable alternative to soya is a priority for the food industry. Protein crops such as peas are ideal for the UK climate but one of our challenges is their flavor profile in human food,” Paul Billings, managing director of Germinal UK and Ireland, said. “Pea flavors are undesirable for consumers in processed food, so the goal is to produce peas that are tasteless but retain nutritional value.”
The goals of the Pea Protein project include replacing soy with crops grown in the UK, meeting demand for plant-based proteins and producing the soy alternatives sustainably. As BBC reported, growing 40,000 hectares more of peas as a soy alternative could save 24,000 metric tons of carbon emissions per year.
The project is a collaboration with Germinal Horizon, John Innes Centre, Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) and PGRO with funding support from Innovate UK and Defra.