The humble chickpea is a versatile product. It can be roasted, ground, stewed, split or fried. It can be eaten as a sweet snack or in a salad and is applauded as a healthy food source.
Tapping into the popularity and versatility of the edible legume, particularly in the lucrative Indian market, is Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher, Associate Professor in Food Science Chris Blanchard.
Associate Professor Blanchard, from the School of Biomedical Sciences
at CSU in Wagga Wagga, is
also a member of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation – an alliance of CSU and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).
"The three year project, funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and headed by Dr Jenny Wood from NSW DPI, is looking at how Australian chickpeas are perceived by consumers in India," he said.
"If we can understand what Indian consumers prefer in their chickpeas, we can breed new Australian varieties here that are more desirable to that significant market.
"This should benefit Australian farmers by increasing demand for the local chickpea and therefore prices for their chickpeas."
There are two main types of chickpeas grown in Australia; desi, a small and darker chickpea commonly used in dhal, and the larger and lighter-coloured kabuli, which is more likely to be sold whole.
"Improving the quality of these Australian chickpeas and their market acceptance in India is a real challenge for us because there has been very little research that has identified exactly what Indian processers and consumers desire in the perfect chickpea," Associate Professor Blanchard said.
"In the project, Improving food quality and end use market acceptance of Australian Pulses - cooking and sensory, the Charles Sturt University researchers are focussing on the sensory evaluation of chickpeas and we will then work on the chemistry behind what Indian consumers like.
"The research consists of three phases. First, sensory testing in India provides us with the tools to understand what is important to Indian consumers. Second, we will train sensory panellists in Australia to undertake a more comprehensive descriptive analysis, and third, we will conduct a large scale trial using Australian consumers."
The research team at CSU includes Associate Professor Blanchard and Sensory Scientist and Associate Professor of Perceptual Psychology Anthony Saliba from the University's School of Psychology
in Wagga Wagga. Dr Jenny Wood conducts research from NSW DPI in Tamworth, which is also home to the national PBA chickpea breeding program.
Ms Chin is in the final year of her research into the chemical basis of chickpea taste, aroma and processing properties, while Ms Paul Mukhopadhyay is conducting chickpea taste tests at CSU in Wagga Wagga. Read more on CSU News here
Associate Professor Blanchard supervises more than half a dozen PhD students who have relocated to Australia for their postgraduate studies. They Include Ms Chin, Ms Paul Mukhopadhyay, Ms Sonia Gul from Pakistan, who in 2012 started studying bioactive compounds in pulses, and Ms Adeola Alashi from Nigeria who is in her third year of researching canola proteins.
The work is part of a bigger GRDC project involving NSW DPI and the Department of Primary Industries in Victoria examining the quality of pulses including lentils, chickpeas and faba beans.
In March, Dr Wood and Associate Professors Blanchard and Saliba travelled to India to gather information about how chickpeas are used in the country so it can be used as part of the research in Australia.
"The chickpeas are boiled, fried or 'puffed' by roasting them for a popular snack product that is popular in India," Associate Professor Blanchard said.
"These puffed chickpeas also have great potential as a snack food in Australia due to great taste and health benefits.
"In India, chickpeas are a stable food. You can find them everywhere and eaten right across the day in many forms. These range from the use of chickpea flour in popular sweet snacks to chickpeas in curry.
"Our goal is to use our knowledge in food science so Australian chickpeas growers are producing the preferred legume of Indian consumers."
Read more about Associate Professor Blanchard's research on CSU News here