Vegan cuisine: strong demand for Maine’s vegetable proteins

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Starting this summer, Aurora Mills & Farm in Linneus will ship at least 1,000 pounds of yellow peas a month to CommonWealth Kitchen in Boston, where Maine-grown legumes will be processed into falafel and shipped, frozen, to at least four Massachusetts hospitals. and MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta. More New England hospitals are expected to purchase the new product once distribution begins.

The Local Field Falafel production is part of the nonprofit Health Care Without Harm’s national Healthy Food in Health Care initiative, which places locally sourced, plant-based protein dishes on hospital menus across the country. . Supported by a three-year, $998,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Program, the Healthy Food in Health Care program is one reason Maine’s nascent plant-based protein industry is experiencing a boom. constant growth.

“The project is focused on increasing plant protein production,” said John Stoddard, associate director of climate and food strategy for the Healthy Food in Health Care project. “We want to be able to increase sales and signal to the New England market to increase production.”

Farmer Sara Williams Flewelling of Aurora Mills & Farm said Maine once had a processing industry for peas and other legumes, but it has been lost due to market changes.

“When your infrastructure is gone, there are a lot of hurdles,” said Flewelling, who along with her husband, Marcus Flewelling, joined her father, Matthew Williams, in 2013 on the farm. Since 1998, Williams has been growing and distributing organic wheat and other grains and is considered one of the leaders of Maine’s resurgent grain industry.

Today, Aurora Mills is working to do the same for pulses. Flewelling said few Maine farmers grow legumes for the food market (some Maine farmers grow beans to sell to the animal feed market, which requires less processing). But the call from Healthy Food in Health Care prompted the farm and grain mill to start processing its own yellow peas for the food market. He was aided by a grant from the Maine Technology Institute which enabled the farm to purchase a high-tech optical sorter, which is a pulse processor capable of achieving 99.9% purity (meaning no stones, foreign objects or stained beans).

The Maine Grains plant in Skowhegan recently began selling bags of black bean and yellow pea flour. Photo courtesy of Maine Grains

The only other food-grade pulse processor in the state is Maine Grains. Skowhegan Flour Mill first processed yellow peas in 2017 for the wholesale market, and last month began selling its yellow pea flour and another flour made from black beans to shops in detail.

Amber Lambke, co-founder and chairman of Maine Grains, was in the UK in May as a keynote speaker at the UK Grain Lab’s annual meeting, where she met bakers and confectioners from around the world. These forward-thinking artisans understand the need to support a farm’s full crop mix, Lambke said, and not just its grain crops such as wheat or corn. Legumes, including black beans, yellow peas and soybeans, play a crucial role in fixing nitrogen in the soil, while crops such as wheat and corn deplete it.

“Bakeries are realizing the need to support local farms using all crop rotations,” Lambke said.

Some wholesale black bean flour buyers use it to make black bean dips or black bean brownies, Lambke said, while yellow pea flour buyers use it to make hummus, mayonnaise vegan or sugar cookies with an “almost corn flavor”.

At Miller’s Table, Maine Grains’ factory restaurant, the menu recently expanded to include a vegetarian burger made with black bean flour and oatmeal. In addition to supporting farmers, eating more plant protein reduces the production of greenhouse gas emissions, which are much higher with animal protein.

“The veggie burger is a solution to eating less red meat,” Lambke said.

Inside the full-capacity Heiwa Tofu manufacturing plant in Rockport, Chris Wildhaber scrapes cooked Maine-grown soybeans from a kettle while Kevin Park (background) extracts soymilk from cooked soybeans. Photo courtesy of Heiwa Tofu

Another way to eat less meat is to eat more tofu, and the number of people making this swap has caused the state’s only tofu maker, Heiwa Tofu in Rockport, to reach the limits of its production capacity. Shipping up to 12,000 pounds of tofu each week, Heiwa owner Jeff Wolovitz said that between existing customers ordering more and new stores looking for tofu, “there is always more demand even if I do nothing”.

He sources about half of the organic soybeans he uses each year from Aurora Mills & Farm, where farmer Flewelling grows 100 acres of soybeans, a warm weather crop harvested in November. It’s a risk, because an early snowfall will destroy the soybeans.

Sacks of rice grown by farmer Ben Rooney of the Maine Rice Project on the shelf of the Ararat Farms farm stand in Lincolnville. Maine Rice Project/Ben Rooney photo

Rice is another warm weather herbal protein crop growing in Maine with more demand than supply. Farmer Ben Rooney started the Maine Rice Project in 2012 and has produced up to 4,000 pounds of rice per year. This year, Maine-grown rice is only available at Ararat Farms’ self-serve farm stand in Lincolnville. His move last year to the new farm reduced his expected yields this season, but his real goal is to empower other farmers to grow rice. To that end, he used a Maine agricultural development grant to import five mobile dehullers from India, three of which he intends to lease. He said he would likely station one of the hullers at Liberation Farm in Wales, where the Somali Bantu farm is experimenting with growing rice. Like all plants, rice contains protein and is often combined with beans in traditional high-protein dishes.

“Demand skyrocketed once people started eating rice,” Rooney said. “There is a huge market in northern New England for this rice.”

With all these plant proteins in high demand, the bottleneck remains the lack of processing capacity and the lack of farmers growing plant-based protein crops.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]
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