Consumers are constantly searching for healthier food options, especially those that provide sustenance for hectic lifestyles. Bakery products typically don’t fit into this category, but the inclusion of pea protein allows baking companies to take on the challenge.

“Where we see it being used namely these days is in those bakery products that could have a little bit more of a healthful leaning side,” observed Matt Gennrich, senior food technologist, R.&D. bakery applications, Cargill. “People tend to look toward the bread and breakfast category — muffins and biscuits — when they’re looking for increased levels of protein.”

Available as isolates, concentrates and flours, pea protein can meet a variety of needs in bakery items. Some of the functional benefits include water holding, gelation and increased browning, particularly in gluten-free applications, said Karen Constanza, project leader, technical development, Ingredion, Inc.

“Pea protein can perform comparably to soy proteins in terms of solubility, emulsification, water and oil holding,” Ms. Constanza said. “However, pea protein performs differently from whey protein in terms of solubility and gelling. Differences in functionality can be attributed to the differences in the type of protein fractions.”

Another advantage of using pea protein in bakery products is that it can replace potential allergens such as wheat, dairy and egg. This sets it apart from many other plant proteins, including soy, wheat or whey.

Baking companies should also take note of the protein profile of pea protein compared with other plant-based options. In the seed itself, pea protein has about 25% protein content, which isn’t as high as soy at 34%, but it is far greater than wheat protein’s 13% and rice protein’s 7%, said Frank Truong, general manager, COSUCRA Inc.

Pea protein is also procured more sustainably than soy.

“The use of pea protein over other plant-based and animal proteins has significant advantages in three key areas: arable land protein yield, water usage and energy consumption,” Mr. Truong said. "Is the brand’s strategy trying to appeal to a more sustainable story? If so, then there are a lot of attributes around why pea protein would be top on a priority list.”

Overcoming formulation challenges

Although it has sustainability benefits, formulation advantages and a high-protein seed profile, pea protein is not a complete protein.

“Pea protein is lacking in lysine and threonine, so you still have to augment that a little bit,” Mr. Gennrich said. “You will have to pair it with other proteins. We’ll use whey or soy or wheat and sometimes rice, but this is where you can run into problems with allergens.”

Mr. Truong also recommended using alternative sources such as legumes to reach a complete protein when avoiding allergens is a high priority. But he warned bakers to experiment with the amount of plant proteins used because it can easily change the flavor profile. For this reason, many consumers don’t enjoy the vegetable flavor associated with many plant protein products. Ingredient companies seek to provide solutions to mitigate that during formulation.

PURIS Pea Protein has a mild, clean flavor.

“As far as the bitter notes and the metallic notes, and the muddy notes and the grassy, PURIS’ pea protein is very low on that,” Mr. Gennrich said. “It has more of a flour flavor.”

Ingredion’s Vitessence 1803 pea protein isolate is lower in raw beany notes, resulting in a “cleaner” pea protein concentrate in low- and high-moisture applications, said Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager, nutrition and pet food, Ingredion, Inc.

Nastar, a functional pea starch from Cosucra, is a white and tasteless powder extracted from the yellow pea. The company’s Pisane pea protein may be used at high levels without much impact on texture and taste.

One challenge formulators face when adding protein sources to baked applications is the structure of the dough.

“Adding any protein whether it’s pea, soy wheat or rice to baked foods will affect dough handling by impacting the strength of the gluten matrix and overall moisture retention,” Mr. Luchsinger said. “This balance between extensibility and elasticity also allows the dough to be stretched and worked while still maintaining its overall structure.”

Adding enzymes can promote improved texture, Mr. Gennrich said. Finer granulation can often provide higher water holding capacity, whereas a larger granulation size can have less foaming capacity. Eliminating granulated sugar and using corn syrup, liquid sugar or sugar honey can also create additional moisture.

Mr. Gennrich suggested fighting product dryness with time.

“We like to allow time for the proteins to hydrate, whether that’s giving the dough a little bit additional bench time or taking your proteins before you mix them in with the rest of the dry ingredients and adding a fair amount of water to make sure they get more fully hydrated,” he explained. “I know that adds a little bit of time to the process, so it’s not always beneficial from that standpoint, but it can give you a little less dry of a texture in the finished product.”