BBC News –
When Tyler Lorenzen first started to sell protein powders derived from peas he received some “odd looks”.
As a former professional athlete – he was with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints until 2011 – he knew a lot about nutrition and believed in pea protein, but had trouble convincing others about its benefits.
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.
The firm also had to battle people’s childhood memories of eating peas, which did not necessarily endear them to the product.
“Most people’s memories as a kid of eating peas is not delightful or delicious,” he says.
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.
Other consumers, particularly in Europe, were put off by the fact that soya protein is often derived from genetically modified soya crops.
Also hexane, a solvent derived from oil, is typically used to extract protein from soya beans. While the industry says virtually all of the chemical is eliminated before soya protein reaches the market, for some consumers the use of hexane was a deal breaker.
So pea protein, which doesn’t require chemicals during the production process, 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.