For decades soya beans have been the main supply of plant-based protein, but since the turn of the millennium, pea protein has become an attractive alternative.

Back in the day when Tyler Lorenzen first started to sell protein powders derived from peas he received some “odd looks”.

In 2013 he was working for his family’s business, Puris, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which had just developed its own pea protein.

But when he tried to sell them, customers were dubious: “What are you guys doing… protein from peas? I didn’t even know peas had protein,” they would tell him.

But the firm’s timing turned out to be good. Health conscious consumers were looking for alternatives to dairy and to soya.

And over the years that has turned into a boom, from meat-free burgers to dairy-free cheese, you can find pea proteins in all sorts of foods – you can even drink pea “milk”.

For decades soya beans have been the main supply of plant-based protein, but since the turn of the millennium, it has been falling out of favour.

Some people are simply allergic to soya, so they needed something else. Pea protein has become an attractive alternative.

Also the source crop, yellow field peas, are plentiful and liked by farmers.

“Peas are a real nice crop, they’re pretty easy,” says Bill Gehl, whose family has been farming in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, for three generations.

The relatively dry weather suits the production of fields of pulses – peas, beans and lentils are common in his province.

Bill says farmers like the yellow field pea because, like other legumes, it transfers nitrogen from the air into the soil, making it more fertile.

There is also a financial incentive: “The big thing is you can make money out of it,” says Mr Gehl.

“They [peas] haven’t been as susceptible to the downturn in the global economy as maybe some of the other pulses,” he adds.

The demand for Bill’s peas is likely to be supported by the boom in demand for pea protein.

The early demand was for pea protein was in powder form – used as a supplement in shakes and drinks.

But in recent years it has been incorporated in more and more products.

There is demand from firms making plant-based “meat” products and dairy-free yoghurts, cheese and milk.

Perhaps the best known is Beyond Meat, which makes plant-based meat products, and this year floated on the stock market, worth $1.5bn.

The rise of plant-based proteins has caught the traditional, or legacy, food giants by surprise.

“The millennial generation has basically woken up and their tastes are rather dramatically changing in affluent countries, substituting animal for plant-based proteins.”

Environmental groups support plant-based proteins, hoping that their rise will curb meat consumption.

“The world’s top scientists have consistently said we need to more than halve our meat consumption to prevent climate breakdown,” said Richard George, head of forests at Greenpeace.

“Pea protein is undoubtedly one option among many. Changing our eating habits won’t be easy, but the more options we have, the better our chance of success.”

Original source: www.bbc.com