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#FoodHack2020: can wrinkled peas reduce the chances of people developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease?

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What’s so special about wrinkled peas?

Peas can be wrinkled or round – and it’s their genetic composition that determines which. But it’s not only their shape that distinguishes them. Researchers at Imperial College London, the John Innes Centre, and Quadram Institute have found that wrinkled peas contain a higher amount of “resistant” starch than round peas. Resistant starch is a type of fibre - foods containing it are digested more slowly in the body, which means that blood sugar spikes are less extreme compared with non-resistant starches found in many snacks and fast food.

This raised some exciting questions for the researchers – what if the resistant starch found in wrinkled peas were to be used in more food products, in place of less resistant starches? Could wrinkled peas be included in new snacks and food items that have a lower impact on blood sugar levels than current options in the shops? And if so, might that contribute to reducing the number of people who develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as make it easier to manage for those already diagnosed with either condition?

These were the question at the heart of Food Hack 2020, held at Imperial College’s Advanced Hackspace over two days at the end of February. The event brought together representatives from across the food industry – from growers all the way through the supply chain to retailers – to come up with ideas on how to get wrinkled peas into more food products.

What happened during the hack?

Mervyn de Souza at FoodHack2020

We were thrilled to bring our expertise in innovative food and ingredient solutions to one of the three teams participating. Mervyn de Souza, our VP of Global R&D Health & Wellness and Open Innovation, represented Tate & Lyle and was assigned to the team looking at on-the-go snacks. The other two teams worked on ideas related to fortified staples and curated meals.

On the first day, the participants got an introduction into lean entrepreneurship and innovation sprints. The group were reminded about the key factor in start-up success: meeting a market need. With this in mind, the teams got creative with their ideas, before whittling them down to just one that they felt had the best chance of success. For Mervyn’s team this was a crunchy pea snack bag in a range of flavours, capturing all the health benefits of wrinkled peas.

They then tested this idea with a group of industry mentors, who gave them feedback and suggestions to further improve the proposition.

The second day focused on building a roadmap to market. Following some preparation time, the three teams then pitched their ideas to a group of judges, who responded with some challenging questions.

Mervyn’s team received the “most surprising insight” award for their idea to get their pea snacks into pubs, airlines, and hospital canteens. The winning pitch went to the team who proposed a pea pasta, envisaged as a non-premium product that families could use as a replacement for regular white pasta.

What happens next?

Mervyn and FoodHack team

The research team organising the event will spend some time assessing the ideas that came out of the hack and consider which could form the basis for a further collaborative project, with possible government funding. The ultimate goal is to translate their ground-breaking research into real products in the market with health benefits for those with diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

It was a great opportunity for us to help bridge the gap between academia and industry and share our expertise in getting healthy, but still tasty, products to market, especially when those products can have a positive impact on public health. Supporting healthy living is a core pillar of our company purpose of Improving Lives for Generations so we valued the opportunity to be part of this discussion and look forward to seeing how the proposals develop.

Want to know more about what happened during the event? Take a look at Mervyn’s blog from his time at FoodHack2020 here.