Raising the Pulse (RtP)

Principal Investigator: Professor Lovegrove, University of Reading

Raising the Pulse (RtP) is a systems analysis of the environmental, nutritional and health benefits of pulse-enhanced foods. It’s based on the concept that if we could make it easier for the UK population to eat more UK-grown pulses, there would be considerable health and environmental benefits.

The pulse best suited to the UK, the faba bean, is naturally high in protein, micronutrients and fibre, as well as having the lowest environmental impact of all crops. This is because it can ‘fix’ nitrogen from the atmosphere with no need for polluting nitrate fertilisers.

However, most of the population will not significantly increase their consumption of pulses unless they are successfully incorporated into familiar looking and tasting, economic and convenient staple foods, such as bread. This has not been done to date because economic incentives do not exist for producers to supply raw materials with defined end use quality. Similarly, there aren’t incentives for processors to reconfigure their facilities to accommodate a new raw material.

We hope that this study will provide a major stimulus to encourage food manufacturers to use UK pulses to satisfy consumer demand for plant-based and pulse-rich foods, rather than importing chiefly soy-based ingredients.

RtP addresses this market failure by bringing together a consortium to develop feasible routes to market for UK produced foods with added faba beans. The project includes experts in diverse areas, including:

  • environment
  • agriculture
  • food
  • nutrition
  • health
  • consumer behaviour.

These experts have a demonstrated track record in this area and will work with industry, government and civil society to tackle five linked challenges.

Challenge 1

How can the environmental impacts of faba beans grown to meet specific quality standards be minimised?

We will conduct extensive field trials to establish growing protocols to maximise the amount of nutrients produced per unit area. This will involve using the best available genetics, agronomy and post-harvest technologies while making detailed measurements of environmental impacts.

Challenge 2

How can faba beans from Challenge 1 be prepared for incorporation into a variety of food products such that they retain the highest possible nutritional value and minimal change in taste?

Following successful pilot breadmaking trials conducted to show feasibility, we will optimise cultivar selection, pre-processing and milling steps. This will let us obtain faba bean flours that can be successfully combined with wheat flour. Then, we can make RtP bread that is an acceptable alternative to conventional bread, but with added nutritional and environmental benefits.

Challenge 3

What effects does eating more pulses have on nutritional intake and human health?

We will perform a human study using RtP bread to determine nutrient availability and its effects on hunger and health markers. Furthermore, we will conduct two consumer studies, one in student halls of residence and one in the catering outlets on the University of Reading campus. These will investigate whether faba beans offered as RtP breads and in other foods result in a healthier diet and better nutritional knowledge when information of their benefits is given.

Challenge 4

How can our understanding of consumer attitudes, preferences and behaviours be used to achieve optimum increase in pulse intake?

Addressing this crucial point will involve:

  • reviewing evidence
  • performing focus groups
  • surveys
  • choice experiment
  • test market launch.

This will include determining how the public perceives RtP bread and related foods, whether they like and choose pulses, and whether knowledge of their benefits promotes their consumption.

Challenge 5

This part will combine all the data collected across the project to create an overarching mathematical model of interactions between pulse (particularly faba bean) production, manufacturing and consumption.

We’ll use the model to determine the influence on environment and health, as well as legislation and consumer behaviour. Then, we can predict the outcomes of specific interventions to hasten the transition of the UK population to a diet that contains more pulses.