Israeli Start-Up Invents Chickpea Milk, Yogurt

Yaakov then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright. Genesis 25:34 (The Israel Bible™)

If you asked the average Israeli what garbanzo beans or chickpeas are, they probably would shrug their shoulders, indicating that they had no idea. But if you called these legumes “hummus,” their mouths would start to water. 

Turned into a paste, with tehina (sesame seed paste), lemon juice and a dash of olive oil and seasonings, hummus is one of this country’s favorite dishes when eaten with pitta bread and falafel (fried chickpea balls). 

Chickpeas have been actually been grown in Middle Eastern countries for thousands of years. Besides being an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fiber, chickpeas can improve digestion, help in losing weight and reducing the risk of several diseases. The legumes contain a moderate amount of calories, about two-thirds of them from carbohydrates, while the rest comes from protein and a small amount of fat. They also contain beneficial iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and phosphorus. 

Who would have thought that the cheap and basic chickpea can be used to make tasty milk substitutes? Cow’s milk has become a no-no for some people who realize that dairy cows harm the environment by producing gas from hay or grass that is involved in global warming. Others are allergic to dairy products, lack the lactase enzyme for digesting them or abstain from eating them for other reasons. 

Now, an Israeli food-tech startup name ChickP Ltd. located in Rehovot has launched a line of next-generation chickpea isolates especially designed for plant-based dairy-alternative products. This ground-breaking plant protein, developed by the faculty of Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment uses patent-pending technology to extract up to 90% pure protein out of the chickpea seed.

Global launches of dairy alternative products are triple the rate of new food and beverage launches overall, according to Innova Market Insights. The research group noted a 22% compound growth rate for the period from 2014 to 2018. Europe is leading the dairy-alternative drinks market in terms of launches, accounting for 38% of such launches tracked globally in 2018.

The company, which was founded in 2016, says that the new chickpea isolates offer “exceptional beneficial characteristics that help alternative dairy producers overcome challenges in processing as well as boosting consumer acceptance and fulfilling the demand for highly nutritious and tasty products.” Thanks to its high solubility and smooth viscosity, the product forms an emulsion/gel that helps contribute to a firm, finished product.

“We tested the chickpea ingredient across a range of parameters, including functionality, flavor, nutrition profile, and protein content,” says Dr. Ram Reifen, a physician and founder and chief security officer of ChickP. “Sensory parameters such as taste, color, and texture are the key factors for success in launching any new product in the marketplace. Plant-based milk alternatives that contain ChickP’s isolates have been shown to mimic cow’s milk and yogurt better for taste, mouthfeel, and nutritional value.”

While most plant-based proteins can create bitter or off-flavors that have to be masked by adding sugar, artificial flavors or other agents in the final product, ChickP protein has a neutral flavor, mitigating the need for sugar or flavor additives in the products.

Plant-based proteins often possess sandy or chalky textures that reduce the beneficial sensory experience. Most dairy-alternative consumers in the US, the company adds, consume these products in cereal, smoothies, and coffee. But these products require a protein ingredient that creates a smooth feeling in the mouth and does not curdle when heated –characteristics often lacking in most plant protein dairy alternatives. ChickP protein was designed to provide a strong, smooth texture and emulsion stability while having high solubility and smooth viscosity.

Non-dairy replacements for milk are usually less nutritious than cow’s milk when it comes to protein, and they can also contain fewer essential nutrients and are higher in sugar. But the company points out that ChickP powder contains 90% protein, less moisture (the drier the better) and below 0.1% fat. The very-low fat level is important since high-fat content shortens shelf life and can lead to aftertastes.

Dairy-alternative products can contain artificial flavors, coloring, emulsifiers, masking ingredients and other additives that help them mimic dairy foods. By minimizing the use of such ingredients, ChickP protein allows for shorter, cleaner foods. 

Dairy, soy and tree nuts – the most common milk and milk-alternative sources – are known allergens. Also, in some populations, as many as half of the consumers have lactose-intolerance. Chickpeas allergies are exceedingly rare, and ChickP proteins are non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) and do not contain phytoestrogens.

Reifen, a pediatric gastroenterologist and a professor of human nutrition and the director of the Hebrew University’s Center for Nutrigenomics and Functional Foods, has devoted years of research to the whole chickpea and fighting malnutrition in children and mothers. He has also served as a committee member for the World Health Organization and the European Union on issues related to food, nutrition and health. 

During years of basic and applicative research, Reifen led multiple studies involving chickpea cultivation and formulation of chickpea-based weaning foods in developing countries, as well as immunological studies related to the legume. He applies his scientific background in health, nutrition, environment, and food-tech to continue research toward alleviating malnutrition and contributing to better nutrition and health for children and their parents.

“We scaled up our processing production in October 2019, and we are set to market the ingredient to alternative-dairy companies and to dairy companies that are seeking high-quality protein options,” added Ron Klein, CEO of ChickP. “Our products answer the current market needs for safe and nutritious dairy products without flavors, sugars, colorants or artificial ingredients, while addressing environmental and ethical concerns.”