The yellow pea -- a U.S. legume that’s gone from feeding World World II soldiers to a lead role in the faux-meat boom -- is long due for a makeover.
That’s according to Benson Hill Inc., a food-technology startup that’s unveiling a plan to create proprietary, non-genetically modified and traceable yellow peas. Through AI technology and working with farmers, the company aims to be ready to go to market with revamped peas in three to five years, Chief Executive Officer Matt Crisp said in an interview.
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The goal is to come up with better-tasting and higher-protein ingredients to sell into the plant-based food markets for both humans and their pets. Yellow pea is the fastest-growing source of protein for such meat alternatives, a market expected to be worth $140 billion globally by 2029, up from $14 billion in 2019.
Benson Hill, which is set to go public later this quarter, is striving to boost yellow-pea protein from 20%-25% to more than 30%. That would help reduce water- and energy-intensive processing, Crisp said. Improving taste could mean less sodium needed to mask “off-putting” flavors.
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U.S. yellow- and green-pea production spiked during World War II, when the beans were heavily used to feed American soldiers worldwide. Output plateaued from around 1948 until the early 2000s, when demand for plant-based food and beverages began to soar, said Tim McGreevy, CEO of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council in Idaho.
“With innovation and the focus on climate-friendly foods, I think we are going to see increased demand for these crops,” McGreevy said.
In the pandemic, there has been a greater shift to plant-based diets driven by climate and hygiene concerns which has given rise to flexitarian diets, and this could be the way forward.
The story has been lightly edited for style.