Nutritional properties and health aspects of pulses and their use in plant-based yogurt alternatives


As part of the Smart Protein project, researchers from University College Cork in Ireland recently published a paper on the nutritional properties and health aspects of pulses and their use in plant-based yogurt alternatives. In the paper, researchers provide an overview of the nutritional composition of pulses (including pro-nutritional and anti-nutritional compounds), as well as looking at how their composition can be altered by fermentation, and the chemistry behind pulse-protein coagulation by acid or salt denaturation. The paper provides an argument for the use of pulses in plant-based yogurt alternatives going forward.

Globally, plant-based yogurt alternatives are increasing in market value, while dairy yogurt sales are stagnating or even declining. The plant-based yogurt alternatives market is currently dominated by products based on coconut or soya. Coconut-based products are often low in protein and high in saturated fat, while soya products raise consumer concerns around genetic modification, and soya allergies are common.

Pulses are ideally suited as a base for plant-based yogurt alternatives due to their high protein content and beneficial amino acid composition. This review provides an overview of the nutritional benefits and drawbacks of the pulses studied, the impact of fermentation on pulse composition, and the chemistry behind pulse-protein coagulation.

Summary and key findings

    • While not yet widely used in plant-based yogurt alternatives, pulses possess many traits that make them an excellent alternative to the soya-, coconut-, and almond-based yogurt alternatives that currently dominate the market.
    • Pulses are protein rich, and while low in sulfur-containing amino acids like methionine and cysteine, they are high in lysine, making them good complements to a diet that is rich in cereals, in which lysine is typically lacking.
    • Pulses are also rich in phenolic acids, polyphenols, saponins, and flavonoids, which can be beneficial due to their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties.
    • On the other hand, pulses also contain anti-nutritional factors such as lectins, trypsin inhibitors, and phytates, which can result in decreased intestinal uptake of a number of nutrients. For example, vicine and convicine, two glycosides that are present in faba beans, can cause hemolytic anemia in susceptible individuals.
    • Some antinutritional factors, such as trypsin inhibitors, vicine, convicine, and α-galactosides, can be reduced or almost eliminated by fermentation, while levels of beneficial compounds such as isoflavones and antioxidants can be increased. The effect of fermentation is strongly dependent on strains, substrates, and fermentation conditions.
    • In experimental set-ups, as well as in commercially available plant-based yogurt alternatives, pulses have proven to be well-suited substrates for lactic acid fermentation with traditional yogurt cultures, requiring none of the thickeners and stabilisers typically used to achieve satisfactory texture in plant-based yogurts. However, more research is needed to be able to influence various types of pulses in a controlled way using fermentation.

    Access the paper here.