The Power of the Pulse
by Kate Zimmerman
No longer dismissed as dreary vegetarian fare, pulses are having a great big moment.
Quick, you foodies – which Canadian crop fixes nitrogen in soil, is non-GMO, has a low carbon footprint, is a major source of protein and fibre, is gluten-free and low in fat, contains iron, potassium and folate, can help prevent Type 2 Diabetes, reduces bad choles- terol levels, lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke, and is likely the answer to feeding the world’s growing population?
We’re talking pulses, friends – the edible dried seeds of legumes, which are plants whose fruit is encased in a pod. Pulses include lentils, chickpeas, dried peas and some beans, and our neighbour to the east grows much of the world’s supply, to the tune of $3.8 billion annually.
Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre began test-growing lentils in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta fields in 1972 after an over-production of wheat left the prairies with a wasteful surplus. Drought-tolerant, frost-hardy and easy on water, pulses quickly charmed farmers, who now devote 7.2 million acres to growing lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans and faba (fava) beans. (Alberta farmers grow 1.8 million acres of pulses, mostly field peas.)
In 2015, Saskatchewan grew 99 percent of Canada’s chickpeas, 94 percent of its lentils and 56 percent of its dry peas. Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of its pulse production was, and is, exported to international markets – countries like daal-devouring India and hummus-hungry Turkey. China sources the starch it
needs for dumplings, vermicelli and moon cakes from Saskatchewan dried peas.
The United Nations named 2016 The Year of Pulses in acknowledgement of the crucial role these grains play worldwide. To celebrate, last fall Regina held the Great Canadian Pulse Off, a concerted effort by government and industry players to draw attention to this wonder-food. It involved social media posts, public giveaways and the mayor declaring October 28th We Love Pulses Day. (This year’s Great Canadian Pulse Off takes place October 23-28.)
Among other activities, visiting media were invited to the 2,700-acre, zero-till farm of major pulse grower Lee Moats.
“We could have Canada over for lunch,” he joked about his farm’s production levels, “but they’d have to have hummus on toast with canola margarine.”
The Pulse Off featured a restaurant contest where local chefs created pulse-based dishes, inviting the public to try them and vote for their favourite. The winning recipe came from Victoria’s Tavern’s chef Sean Hale, who created a white bean and lentil vegetarian sausage corn dog. (Next stop, Stampede?)
Joel Williams, the executive chef and co-owner of Lancaster Taphouse, a Pulse Off participant, said afterward that his restaurant’s chickpea and lentil tacos surprised and pleased the 150-odd diners who tried it. He believed the Pulse Off left local diners “a lot more open” to pulses. Mind you, he was already a keener. At a Gold Medal Plates competition, he’d served beluga lentil caviar blanched in rabbit stock as a textural element in a prize- winning “rabbit duo” dish.
Beyond the Pulse Off, chefs like Williams and FLIP Eatery & Drinkery’s David Straub, and purveyors like Mark Heise of Rebellion Brewing, are integrating pulses into ongoing offerings. Heise has created a bright, refresh-
ing and popular Lentil Cream Ale using proprietary King Red lentils from locally based processor AGT Food & Ingredients. AGT buys, cleans, sorts, peels, splits, packages and ships pulses at more than 40 facilities around the world.
Chef Straub grew up on a Saskatchewan farm where pulse crops fed his family during lean seasons. In a speech at a Pulse Week cocktail party, he said he believed it’s his responsibility to use pulses in his cooking, and that they should be regarded as part of the province’s “culinary identity and cultural heritage.”
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