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In The Family
Why is Pea Protein the New Fake Meat?

The impossible burger, not-chicken nuggets, and energy bars are all about peas now. What gives?

You can now get pea protein isolate in the infamous bleeding impossible burger, as a powdered smoothie supplement, and even a Soylent-like meal replacer. But considering the long list of foods you can extract protein from—eggs, beer, rice, soybeans—why are peas specifically the new darling of the alt-protein industry?

For one, unlike most plant proteins, pea proteins are nutritionally complete, meaning they supply all nine essential amino acids that you need to eat to survive. Pea protein is also cheap; it’s derived from common split peas, which are easy to grow and cultivate, and there’s plenty of infrastructure setup to provide fast-growing startups with mountains of the stuff.

However the real boon for peas may be what’s not in them, namely common allergens from wheat or soy, and animal products, like with whey, so with peas, a single protein source can supply a kaleidoscopic array of diets. Of course, that’s what we all said about soybeans 40 years ago, only to realize that industrial soybean production has lead to large scale deforestation and serious health consequences, but considering how adept we’ve been about learning from our past mistakes, that surely won’t happen again with peas, right?

Also read: The Buddhist Mock-Meats Paradox

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.