Fresh peas are in season in spring, but pea protein is becoming increasingly in demand all year round. Perhaps you'll first notice it as a supplement or "boost" at your favorite juice bar, as part of a dish at your local cafe or on supermarket shelves next to the old stalwarts, whey and soy protein powders.
I was first introduced a few years ago when craving a fruit and vegetable smoothie from the counter at a popular health food market chain. It was evening and the server said she was all out of the soy protein I'd requested for my boost, but they were featuring a new pea protein, which she promised blended in without changing the flavor or texture. It worked as promised. Now it's often the only protein shot available at the huge international chain Joe & The Juice, where I had the spicy ginger, carrot and apple Go Away Doc juice in New York City recently with a 15-gram pea protein boost, where it often goes on the menu as "plant protein." The chain's Uppercut shake, for instance, is billed as espresso, plant protein and chocolate almond milk (often only 1 gram of protein per cup of almond milk, compared to 11 grams in one-quarter cup of uncooked yellow peas and 7 grams in an egg).
However one wants to gussy up the name, the University of California at Berkeley Wellness newsletter from their school of public health confirmed sales have been explosive in its "Pea Protein: The New 'It' Ingredient" July 2017, story. They noted that the number of products including pea protein grew by about 200 percent between 2014 and 2017, and that the world's largest pea protein manufacturing plant is in the works in Canada.
Daiya, a longtime vegan food company, for instance, has begun selling dairy-free Greek yogurt alternatives, pizza and cheese, all featuring pea protein. A treat I discovered recently, then being featured, was Trader Joe's Peanut Butter Protein Granola with 11 grams of protein per 2/3 cup serving. I thought it was exceptional straight out of the bag, hard to stop eating and lived up to its billing of "chunky, crunchy rolled out clusters with peanut butter, pea protein and peanuts."
Unlike most food (including many types of protein powders, which can be chalky or lumpy within foods), it's the lack of flavor and texture that pea protein has going for it. I've never detected it. In the peanut butter granola, the flavor mainly came from large, roasted peanuts that reminded me of premium ones sold at baseball stadiums, plus the slight sweetness from a bit of added cane sugar. My freshly pressed juice from Joe & The Juice was not overwhelmed by the Joe's usual add of 15 grams of pea protein. My only flavor or texture notes were strong bursts of ginger followed by carrot and apple.
If you invest in a tub of pea protein powder from the supermarket or health food store, let your imagination go wild. And here are a few tasty combinations I tried. Follow serving size suggestions on the pea protein powder package; other ingredients are to taste.
PEA-BRAINED PEANUT BUTTER SMOOTHIE
In a strong blender, create a smoothie with fresh raspberries, banana, canned beets (adds a burst of natural sweetness in addition to its nutritional prowess), peanut butter, fresh spinach, vegan yogurt, pea protein powder and ice.
OH, BOY, OATMEAL WITH ADDED PROTEIN
Cook oatmeal. Stir. Then, carefully stir in pea protein powder, half sweetener of stevia and half sweetener of brown sugar, dark chocolate-covered raisins, fresh blueberries and raw almonds. Heat again for a few seconds to warm it, being careful not to overheat.
APPLAUSE FOR THESE APPLESAUCE PANCAKES
Stir pea protein powder and very thin unpeeled slices of apples into pancake batter before cooking. Serve topped with a mixture of unsweetened applesauce, cinnamon and vegan sour cream.
YOU'LL BE SOLD ON THIS CELERY
Mix well vegan whipped-style cream cheese, pea protein powder, curry powder and minced dried apricots. Spread inside washed raw celery stalks.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
When I saw that Smitten Kitchen blogger and best-selling author Deb Perelman called her recipes "unfussy," I realized that was the word I was searching for when describing a number of new restaurants in our neighborhood that I didn't like to my husband: "fussy." Fancy-schmancy combinations filled their menus with no rhyme or reason. That's why Perelman's "Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant & Unfussy New Favorites" first caught my eye. Unfussy is the tough stuff to do; it's harder to get unfussy to taste great than pretentious fare. You have to know what you're doing; there's no place to hide. Whether it's truly simple, like biscuits or old-fashioned chicken soup, or impressive but foolproof, like a leek, feta and greens spiral pie, these new favorites are a more-than-worthy addition to Perelman's triumphant 2012 "Smitten Kitchen Cookbook."
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.