What You Need to Know About Certifying Pea Protein

Few would have predicted that the unassuming pea would become one of the globe’s most quickly adopted ingredients and in a surprising variety of foods. ≈But consider: the pea is packed with protein. By isolating that protein and “cleaning” it to remove any pea flavor that would limit its food applications, you get pea protein isolate: a non-GMO, non-allergen, plant-based protein – a genuine catch for a generation clamoring for meat and dairy alternatives. 

Pea protein isolate is now being used in a broad range of OU retail products, nutritional shakes and bars, and baked goods. One bold retailer, WonderSlim, has introduced Pea Protein Snack Chips with a variety of flavors including Salt & Vinegar, Sweet Hickory, and Cool Ranch. WonderSlim, which is owned by Diet Direct, Inc., offers meals, meal replacement alternatives, and snacks that are designed by dietitians and nutritionists. Many products are kosher.  

OU-certified global ingredients manufacturers in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and China, have been making significant investments in facilities designed to obtain pea protein. According to a Grandview research report, the pea protein market was worth USD $213.1 million in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12.7% through 2028.   

Using a Third Party Production Facility 

OU certification on the process is, for the most part, straightforward. Yellow peas are delivered to the site of processing, where physical separation removes hulls. According to Mike Odland, Operations Manager at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Edible Beans in North Dakota, the remaining material, which consists of pea starch, pea fiber, and pea protein, is sent through a series of physical and chemical processing steps to separate the pea starch (which represents an independent processing stream) and pea protein isolate.  

The single complexity of kosher supervision hinges on the next step towards isolating pea protein from the remaining sugars and fibers. A cook-step, typically involved a separation process called spray-drying, is typically involved. This process if often outsourced to third-party processors. According to OU policy, any outsourcing step requires special supervision.  

Along with the ADM site in North Dakota, the OU now certifies at least 10 other manufacturers of this versatile ingredient. 

Pea protein isolate has so far solved the following food problem: a developer of low-fat peanut butter discovered that when removing the peanut oil, some of the protein was also being removed; pea protein isolate was used to restore the original content.  

Finally, an important footnote on pea protein. Although according to OU policy it cannot be used in Passover-certified products, since peas are considered kitniyot (a Hebrew word meaning legumes), they nevertheless do have the potential to be certified as chametz-free.  

Rabbi Gavriel Price
Rabbi Gavriel Price is a member of the Ingredients Approval Registry as well as a rabbinic coordinator for the flavors industry. He lives in Passaic, NJ. He and his family love hiking.