International chickpea feast

Chickpea curry; in search of tasty chickpea uses for Australian palates

The CSIRO/Australian Food Industry Science Centre joint venture, Food Science Australia (FSA), is putting chickpeas under the microscope, looking for processing and value-adding potential in one of the world’s most popular pulses.

Rachel Kelly, a research scientist with Food Science Australia at North Ryde in Sydney, says Australia is already the world’s fifth-largest producer of chickpea and the third-biggest exporter, with nearly the entire annual 250,000-tonne crop being sold overseas.

Dr Kelly says although chickpea makes up around 15 per cent of world pulse production — being the principal ingredient in felafel, “one of the most eaten foods on the planet, a sort of Middle Eastern Big Mac” — there’s been very little R&D around the world on chickpea processing.

Only minimal chickpea processing is carried out worldwide, mostly locally based and generally restricted to cleaning, grading, some splitting, some milling and bagging.

“Australia needs to know how chickpea is used in cuisines around the world,” she says. “Many pulse processors are keen to expand their value-adding operations in Australia. Few value-added chickpea products are available in Australia but new products are emerging, particularly through retail outlets carrying Asian- and Middle East-influenced products.”

She says use of grain legumes as food ingredients is in an exciting phase worldwide, with big interest in Europe in plant-derived ingredients, with their high protein levels, digestibility and excellent nutritional status.

Canada catching up

Dr Kelly says Canada, which lifted planted area of chickpea from 3,000 to 140,000 hectares between 1996 and 1999, is boosting chickpea marketing strategies, particularly targeting the Indian sub-continent.

With its emphasis on increased pulse production from sustainable farming systems, Australia needs to look for wider opportunities for chickpea in the global market.

Program 4.1.4 Contact: Dr Rachel Kelly 02 9490 8531 email