Traveling in Asia, Joe Spronz, founder of Red Bank-based Explore Cuisine, chanced upon a local bean seller who claimed the fiber and protein content of his soybeans was off the charts. Spronz, a food scientist trained at the University of London, brought a small supply home.
“What he found was that there was even more protein and more fiber [than normal soybeans],” says Jim Magner, the company’s vice president of sales. “He knew he had stumbled upon something that was going to be great.”
Ultimately, Spronz devised a way to extrude the cooked beans into spaghetti and dry the noodles. Presto! Pasta that was vegan, organic, gluten-free and kosher.
When the product came to market in 2011, it found a niche at natural-food stores. Today, 8-ounce packages of several pasta shapes, made from different types of beans and also from rice, can be found at New Jersey ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Costco stores. Six-packs can be bought from explorecuisine.com for $25.
The top-selling black bean pasta, as well as the edamame and adzuki bean pastas, contain up to 25 grams of protein per two-ounce portion, according to Magner.
The latest addition is pulse pastas. “Pulse is another name for a legume,” says Magner, “and a legume is a chickpea or lentil.”
Explore’s red and green lentil pastas, including a broad lasagna noodle, are produced in Italy.
Magner says the Explore line is available in 27 countries.
“It’s been quite a ride,” he says.
The bean pastas cook in about the same time as regular pasta and are sturdy enough to stand up to baking, reheating and even freezing after cooking without breaking down or changing texture.
“More than ever, people are concerned with their health, “ Magner says. “We attract a lot of different people to our pasta, from foodies, to organic types, to people who just want a healthy lifestyle, as well as those who have celiac or gluten intolerance.”
Chickpea Fusilli with Eggplant, Tomato and Green Onion
Ingredients for 4 people:
1 package chickpea fusilli, cooked
1 large Japanese eggplant, small dice
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
4 garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
2 green onions (scallions), sliced
- Toss eggplant with olive oil. Roast at 400°F until brown and tender.
- Toss tomatoes and garlic with olive oil and roast in the same oven until the tomatoes are blistered.
- Remove the garlic and finely chop.
- Toss eggplant, garlic, tomatoes (including juices) with fusilli.
- Add a splash of olive oil if needed. Season with salt and pepper.
- Garnish with parsley and green onion.
- Chill and serve.