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Variety of legume snacks and the legumes from which they were made.
Crisp, crunchy, protein-rich snacks—low in salt and cholesterol free—can be made from the flours of lentils, dry peas or black, navy or garbanzo beans, using a process from ARS and Washington State University scientists. Image courtesy James Pan, ARS.

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Likeable Legume Snacks from ARS Research

By Marcia Wood
November 14, 2007

Garbanzos, lentils, and dry peas and beans can now make crunchy, great-tasting snacks that are also good for you.

That's according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their university colleagues who've created the unique, healthful treats that can come in a variety of shapes, from crisp bits to tubular puffs.

Researcher Jose De J. Berrios of ARS' Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., and Juming Tang and Barry Swanson at Washington State University in Pullman are seeking a patent for the technology that led to the low-sodium, low-fat, cholesterol-free foods. The snacks are also rich in protein and dietary fiber.

The research may help adults and children get the amounts of vegetables recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Some of the pre-market products have already been taste-tested by about 500 volunteers—most of whom gave the foods an enthusiastic "thumb's up." One snack made of crisp, fully-cooked garbanzos is ready to eat out-of-hand or could be tossed with a salad of leafy greens, sprinkled on a bowl of hearty soup, or added to traditional party mixes.

The scientists used a standard piece of food processing equipment, a twin-screw extruder, to make the snacks. Extruders are energy-efficient, fast and versatile, combining—into just one machine—several steps including mixing, cooking, shaping and other processes needed to convert legume flours into appealing snacks .

Extrusion technology isn't new. But the scientists are the first to determine the processing speeds, heating temperatures, amounts of moisture and formulations that create consistent, desirable textures and tastes from every batch of legume flour.

The USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, based in Moscow, Idaho, helped fund the research. Currently, ARS—the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency—is looking for industry partners to commercialize the nutritious snacks.