It’s noon and McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg’s Grant Park Shopping Centre is so packed that it takes several minutes and sharp elbows to navigate the throng of people.
But these urbanites aren’t here to shop for books to feed their minds, they’re here to learn about healthy new eats made from some unlikely sources — lentils, beans and chickpeas.
“I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I came out because the email said there would be snacks,” said a laughing Agnes Remple, who works nearby.
“But I’ve learned a lot… I had no idea that they were so healthy for you,” she said.
Remple was one of more than 100 people who attended the kickoff for the International Year of Pulses, a title bestowed on 2016 by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
In organizing the event, the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers hoped to reach new consumers by hosting it in a decidedly urban environment.
“We know farmers are aware of the attributes of a pulse crop,” said Kyle Friesen, who farms near Altona and chairs the association. “So where we wanted the focus to be was on the consumer and on the general public that might not know as much about pulses. We’re trying to increase consumption by introducing new ingredients into diets, so having an event in the city, in a more residential-type area, hopefully we were able to attract that target audience.”
He added that many consumers aren’t familiar with the term pulse, even if they are familiar with lentils or chickpeas.
“Really, part of our effort here is to explain that pulse has a number of meanings, including this group of crops — the peas, the dry beans, the favabeans, lentils, chickpeas, those kinds of things,” said Friesen.
Another goal was to show people how they could incorporate pulses into their diet. Chris Kopp, head chef at Prairie Ink Restaurant and Bakery, came up with some unique uses for pulses and pulse flour, including Thai bean soup, cheese crackers, artisan crackers, dips, spreads and more.
“I made crackers, gluten free, using red lentil flour and chickpea flour using xanthan gum as a binder. I also used a lot of lentil grit for some breading for chicken,” he explained. Deserts were on offer as well, including a gluten- and egg-free macaroon made by pastry chef Geoffroy Dextraze.
“You have to reduce it a bit, but it turns out you can use aqua fave, or bean juice, to replace egg whites,” he said, referring to the water that comes with canned chickpeas. “It’s gold.”
Remple plans to try out some of the recipes that she tasted.
“I think I’ll start with the chicken. I think the grandkids would love it,” she said.
However, finding milled pulses can be a bit of a challenge. Although some bulk food stores sell them, grocery stores usually only carry whole or split pulses. To make grits for his chicken dish, Kopp used a commercial coffee grinder to get the right consistency.
Friesen said the more consumers demand products, the more stores will carry them, and that the more pulses consumers eat, the more demand there will be for farmers to grow them.
“For the 2016 crop year, it probably won’t have any direct impact, most of those decisions have already been made,” he said. “Really what we’re hoping is that it will have a longer-term impact on consumption — greater demand, greater prices, greater drive for acres. At the end of the day, economics play a big part in a farmer’s cropping decisions, so we really need to have the market drive those decisions through increased demand.”
To help drive that demand and increase awareness, while also improving the health and diets of Manitobans, the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers has launched “The Pulse Pledge,” an online pledge to eat two servings of pulses a week. Ron Kostyshyn, Manitoba’s minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, was the first to sign up.
Friesen said he too will have to increase his pulse consumption to meet the pledge.
“I probably wouldn’t hit the two servings a week, but I’d guess I’d be a little bit above the average consumer,” he said. “So I will definitely take the pledge, yes, I’m planning on it.”