Pulse Canada teams up with the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc. to create an energy bar containing seven pulse ingredients.

By Dario Bard

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Meet the Megabite, an energy bar featuring seven pulse ingredients that is intended to inspire. Unlike most energy bar products that look to win over consumer loyalty and lock down market share, the Megabite, created by Pulse Canada in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc. (Food Centre), has a different aim: to open the eyes of food industry professionals to the innovative possibilities pulses offer.

“The Megabite is a prototype,” explains Christine Farkas, Pulse Canada’s Manager of Food Products and Culinary Innovation. “The idea behind it is to take a traditional concept that everyone is familiar with and apply pulses to it. The Megabite is practically a turnkey product. If a food company is interested, they can take the concept and run with it, or they can use it to hopefully inspire their R&D departments.”

Sara Lui, a Senior Food Scientist and the Manager of Product Development for the Food Centre, based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, led a team of food specialists and turned Pulse Canada’s energy bar concept into a reality.

For food companies looking to launch pulse products in time to take advantage of the promotional opportunities sure to emerge from the International Year of Pulses (IYOP) in 2016, the Megabite represents a golden opportunity. In fact, the latest rendition of the Megabite wrapper encourages those who see it to “Support International Year of Pulses 2016”.

As mentioned, the Megabite features seven pulse products, including green lentil flakes, pea protein, pea flour, pea hull fiber, black bean flakes, red bean flakes and red lentils. Its refined sugar content is minimal, relying instead on dry dates as a sweetener. The Megabite is also an excellent source of fiber and iron.

However, because it is a prototype product, it is not mass produced for retail sales. Instead, Farkas showcases the energy bar at conventions, meetings and industry events.

“When we first started promoting the Megabite, people could help us get the word out,” she says. “Now, in addition to taking it with us at events, we are mailing samples out to food companies.”

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Even though it is not widely available, the Megabite already has its fans, such as Dr. Phil Chilibeck at the University of Saskatchewan, who plans to use Pulse Canada’s energy bar in a study he is conducting that looks at the effects of a pulse-based diet on sports performance. Dr. Chilibeck’s preliminary data indicates a pulse-diet can help athletes improve their endurance and agility.

“I like the Megabite because it has so many pulse ingredients,” says Dr. Chilibeck. This coming spring, he plans to have soccer players consume Megabite bars before games as the next phase of his study.

With IYOP fast approaching, IFT spoke with both Farkas and Lui about the Megabite’s story, from the food lab to the event stand to, hopefully, a food company’s product portfolio in the very near future.

IFT: Where did the idea to make a pulse-based energy bar come from?

Lui: Pulses are known as healthy food ingredients. They have fiber, protein, folate and other vitamins and minerals. Also, pulse protein consists of an essential amino acid, lysine, which is lacking in cereal protein. Most energy bars on the market are made with milk or soy protein, both of which are on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s allergen list. The Megabite does not contain milk or soy.

So pulses are a natural when it comes to energy bars, and yet the Megabite represents something new. As far as we could determine, it is the only energy bar that features pea protein, and is both gluten free and vegan-friendly.

And then there is the fact that Canada is one of the world’s leading exporters of peas and lentils, with Saskatchewan at the heart of the Canadian pulse industry. In 2014, Saskatchewan grew approximately 95% of Canada’s lentil crop, nearly 100% of its chickpea crop and 60% of its dry pea crop.

Farkas: So with all these ingredients available, we said, “Let’s create an energy bar or a granola bar that would be easy for us to take to events and share with people to hopefully inspire them.” We want to showcase what can be done with pulses.

IFT: How long did it take to develop?

Lui: We started developing our first pulse bar in 2011 to promote Saskatchewan grown ingredients, such as Saskatoon berries, lentils and oats. Then Pulse Canada approached us to develop a higher-pulse-content bar that they wanted to have ready for use for promotional purposes in late 2012. So we modified the bar formulation to meet the “source of fiber” and “excellent source of iron” nutrient claims. We incorporated lentils, different varieties of beans, pea fiber, pea protein and extruded pea crisp. These pea crisps were customized and are high in fiber; they came from the Food Centre’s twin screw extruder. Customizing pulse ingredients like that that weren’t on the market before was a real challenge, as was ensuring it tasted great while meeting all the nutrient claims.

IFT: And what is the flavor profile like?

Lui: We are happy with it. It’s not overly sweet and relatively low in sugar compared to other bars on the market. It has chocolate, which appeals to kids, and has a unique nutty taste.

Farkas: I would describe it as not overly sweet; it’s more on the mellow side. The Megabite has dates, rice syrup and chocolate chips. Generally, pulses are fairly neutral when it comes to a flavor profile, so they work well with both delicate and robust flavor profiles.

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Photo: Megabite pulse bar prototype without packaging (source: Pulse Canada)

IFT: What has the reaction been from people who have tried it?

Farkas: In general, the feedback has been pretty positive. We don’t tell them what is in it before they try it, and when people find out, they are surprised that it contains the amount of pulses that it does.

A question we tend to get is, “Where can I buy this?” And unfortunately we are not producing it to sell it; we are producing it to inspire and educate people about these ingredients, so they will hopefully become familiar with bean flakes, roasted lentils and pea fiber, and want to buy products that include these ingredients.

IFT: How did you come up with the name Megabite?

Farkas: When we were thinking about this product and what to call it, we thought, okay, when you think about pulses, you think about a satisfied feeling after a meal. So we came up with Megabite to convey a food that delivers that feeling of satisfaction.

IFT: What do you see as the future of the Megabite?

Farkas: The idea is to inspire, so a food company may not take this product exactly as is per se. Instead, they may find a way to incorporate the ingredients into their own energy bar products. I think there is interest in the food industry to use the elements we’ve used in the Megabite.

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Photo: Megabite promotional pulse bar in packaging showing support for IYOP 2016 (source: Pulse Canada)

IFT: Are you working on other pulse-based products?

Lui: At the Food Centre, we have an ongoing relationship with Pulse Canada and are working on several projects involving pulse-based products. Some of those are confidential, however, so you’ll just have to wait and see!

Visit the Pulse Canada website to learn more. Read about other innovative food products with “pulsified” ingredients. Contacts us with story ideas for this article series to showcase pulse-based products from your region!

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Dario Bard, IFT Journalist