Pulse power

Competition a tasty, healthy showdown

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There’s no easy way to say this, Winnipeg, so I’m just going to blurt it out — welcome to the International Year of Pulses!

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/03/2016 (2391 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s no easy way to say this, Winnipeg, so I’m just going to blurt it out — welcome to the International Year of Pulses!

For those of you who are not as “hip” and “happening” as I am when it comes to nutrition, pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family.

The United Nations has officially declared 2016 the year to celebrate beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils for the vital contribution they make to nutrition and health.

Doug Speirs / Winnipeg Free Press The students on the winning ‘Nutri Dip’ team (front row from left): Mengyuan Zhang, Shangyi Qu and Apoorva Saul. Back row from left, Xiaotian Xu and Yu Weng.

I personally was totally clued out about this nutritional fact until Friday afternoon when I dragged myself down to The Forks to once again stuff my face for free as one of the “expert judges” in the Great Manitoba Food Fight.

This was the eighth consecutive year I have been on the judging panel for this early-spring battle, wherein teams of budding young food scientists from the University of Manitoba duke it out to see who has created the tastiest and most marketable new food product.

On Friday afternoon, 11 teams of gluten-hating students pitched their state-of-the-art food products and provided tasting samples to an elite panel of judges consisting of my pal Judy Wilson, director of marketing and communication at the Asper School of Business; my buddy chef Jason Wortzman, president of the Manitoba Food Processors Association; and, me, an overweight, middle-aged newspaper columnist.

The event was hosted by popular Virgin Radio personality Ace Burpee and, what with this being the International Year of Pulses, right beside our judging table was a huge portrait of Ace’s face made entirely from beans.

Before the judging began, I asked Ace how he felt about having the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine immortalize his mug in beans.

“It was the realization of a dream I didn’t know I had,” Ace laughed as we eyeballed the bean-intensive masterpiece. “I’d have to rate this in the Top 5 moments of my life.”

Getting back to the food fight, we judges were deeply impressed that most of the combatants had worked high-fibre pulse crops into their innovative entries.

For instance, we gobbled down something called Peace Tarts, a gluten-free blueberry pastry made with chickpea flour and brown rice flour that is loaded with antioxidants, combats disease and lowers your blood pressure.

“It’s made from 50 per cent chickpea flour and 50 per cent brown rice flour,” the students gushed. “Peace stands for the ‘pea’ in chickpea and the ‘ce’ in rice.”

The tarts were tasty, but we judges chose to focus on the name of the product. “I keep thinking about the Cat Stevens song Peace Train,” Judge Judy told the crowd.

Which prompted me to suggest: “You could probably market them with that famous John Lennon song. You know, ‘All we are saying is give Peace Tarts a chance!’ “

Also high on the healthy spectrum were Chicka-Bites, a bright-green dehydrated vegetable item billed as a great snack for health-conscious people on the go.

“It’s not a conventional snack,” one of the students noted. “It’s not a cracker or a chip; its a bite.”

Doug Speirs / Winnipeg Free Press Virgin Radio’s Ace Burpee with a portrait of himself made entirely from beans.

You are going to think I am a terrible human being, because I told the kids I would not be part of their target market because, to my aging eyes, these chewy “bites” looked and tasted exactly like the hardened grass clippings you yank out from the bottom of your lawn mower on a hot summer day.

Among the other healthy snacks we gobbled down were Grain Congee Meal, a kind of Chinese porridge touted as the “world’s first liquid energy bar”; Yammybits, a bite-sized product made from mashed yams mixed with oats and coated in shredded coconut (“Yammy means yummy!”); and Choco Chips, potato and sweet potato chips lovingly dipped in dark chocolate.

I think I speak for all the judges when I say we became misty-eyed to see how concerned these students were with our gastrointestinal health, because when we were in university, our main food-research goal was to track down the cheapest takeout pizza and then use the empty cardboard boxes to make functional furniture or replica submarines and rocket ships.

In the end, the big winner was a pulse-packed green salsa called Nutri Dip, made with chickpeas, green peas, black beans, garlic, coriander and red chili pepper and served with taco chips.

“I’d go out and buy this right now,” Judge Judy chirped. “It was the most marketable of all the products.”

Chimed in Judge Jason: “It needs a more attractive name, but you could eat it every day. It had a lot of different flavours and just the right amount of heat and it was the perfect consistency for dipping chips in.”

Student Apoorva Saul, 25, said her team was thrilled that peas and beans had powered them to victory. “It just feels amazing,” she gushed. “We never expected to win. We think it’s a nice product high in fibre and great for people with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

Thanks to these amazing students, the future of snacking in this country will apparently amount to a hill of beans. Which, as far as your colon is concerned, is a good thing.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs
Columnist

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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