Popular as a Thanksgiving side dish or included ingredient in main courses and traditional cuisine, green peas are pretty ubiquitous for a vegetable that’s the very definition of bite size. Replete with vitamins A and C, and folate yet low in calories, they’re a family staple for dinners and as a veggie to freeze since they keep so well.
But could the powerful pea also be the key to fixing some businesses’ supply chain challenges? A Boise, Idaho-based food processing company is betting the farm on it.
As noted in its annual Environmental, Social and Governance Report, LambWeston — one of the world’s largest food processors specializing in potato products — is using pea starch in lieu of traditional ingredients used for batter as a workaround for the shortages in several staple crops.
“This alternative is now used in many of our batters and coatings, solving a business problem while also reducing food waste,” the report said, as quoted by Supply Chain Dive. “Looking forward, we will continue exploring how to incorporate byproducts into our products.”
Improvising spurred by wheat shortages
Although batter can be made in several different ways and leverage a variety of ingredients — such as eggs, flour, leavening agents and more — wheat is a common one used. Since it’s high in starch, it serves as an effective binding agent, helping batter congeal and stick as a coating. But due to the ongoing war occurring between Russia and Ukraine, a region responsible for much of the world’s supply, wheat shortages have persisted. These have been evidenced by the higher prices for the staple food and “product unavailable” signs in grocery aisles and shelves.
Pea starch, however, appears to be filling the gap sufficiently for Lamb Weston. The company further noted in its ESG report that the consistency of pea starch is “a near identical match to our traditional batters” both in how they look, taste and perform in cooking and food manufacturing processes.
Pea starch has also helped the company work through an unsuccessful potato harvest. Idaho, which is largely known for its potato output, yielded a fraction of the crop production it’s accustomed to in 2021 largely due to adverse weather conditions like drought, wildfire activity and the effects COVID-19 had on the labor participation rate. Those influences, in part, bled into 2022, as spud farmers planted 25,000 fewer acres this year than they did in 2021, according to the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and Intermountain Farm & Ranch. Lamb Weston experienced some of the fallout. In an earnings call with reporters ,Lamb Weston Chief Financial Officer Bernadette Madarieta said they slowed production line speeds because of the poor harvest. Potato is also used in some batter mixes.
The United States is a major producer of the world’s supply of green peas, but the biggest by far is China. According to World Mapper, China is responsible for an average of 12.2 million tons of green peas per year. In a distant third is the U.S. with 0.15 million tons annually.