When formulated appropriately, what is known as pulses, can be a powerhouse ingredient for pet food. Pulses have been around in the pet food market for a long time as fillers, but today they are known as viable and sustainable sources of nutrients and protein.
Chickpeas, dried beans, lentils and peas are collectively known as pulses. Their presence in the pet food industry is growing. As a nutrient-dense food source, dried yellow and green field peas are appealing to health – and environmentally- conscious consumers. Dried peas are the most utilized pulse in pet food followed by chickpeas, lentils and all other pet food-approved dried beans. All pulses are rich in protein and fiber.
At one point in time, pulses were considered fillers. They were economic replacements for meat and poultry. Today, pulses are recognized as sustainable crops that provide a desirable balance of macro and micronutrients. Pulses are much more common in dog foods than cat foots. Cat have a simpler, shorter digestive tract with limited fermentative capacity for plant-based ingredients. Mixing plant-based proteins with animal proteins can help achieve a highly palatable, high-protein food for both cats and dogs.
In general, pulses are versatile and serve as a flavor sponge, so they comfortably fit into formulations across the spectrum. Most anti-nutrients are present in the hull, skin, or coat of plant seeds. Phytates, for example are compounds that bind minerals, preventing their absorption in the body. Carnivores cannot break down phytates because they lack the enzyme phytase. The good news is that most anti-nutritional factors in pulses are addressed with cooking and processing, such as extrusion.
The rise in grain-free diets places a large focus on protein. Protein quality must be considered. This includes protein content, amino acid composition, and protein digestibility. In each pulse there are varying levels of amino acids. Pulses provide an alternative protein source to soy or grain-based proteins such as wheat. Protein requirements, including amino acid profiles vary by life stage and breed. Pet food is not a one-size fits all business. While pea protein contains all essential amino acids, it is not considered complete because two of the amino acids, methionine and cysteine are limiting.
Pulses contribute fiber and resistant starch, which provide benefits for the digestive system. Peas also contain compounds known for their antioxidant properties, which may protect against various diseases, such as cancer. Varied formats are available, such as whole, ground and starch. This assists in developing textures such as crunchy, chewy, or even stew-like for wet pet food applications.
The future of pulses in pet food is bright since they bring many nutritional benefits such as protein enrichment and amino acid content. Many pet food and treat manufacturers are looking to fortify their products with protein and replace corn, soy and wheat.
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