Will consumers go loopy for lupini, the appetite-reducing bean?

The Mediterranean’s answer to edamame comes with a number of health benefits – but perhaps most intriguingly could help curb overindulgent eating.

26 January 2018

A look into the crystal ball has put lupini on the list as an ingredient to watch this year.

Jason Bull, sales director of West Yorkshire-based food importer Eurostar Commodities, is calling out the bean as a foodstuff ready to bust onto the scene. He says lupin, as they are alternatively known, have a range of healthy benefits – including “significantly” lowering blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity.

Foods with lupini are also said to help with appetite control. In fact, a study from the University of Western Australia found that people who had lupini bread for breakfast ate up to 20% less for lunch compared to people who consumed white bread.

It also ticks the plant-based protein box, a major food prediction from, well, pretty much everyone for 2018. Lupini beans are full of protein – ranked higher than both tofu and edamame – with 1g of protein for every 7.4 calories.

So what’s the lowdown on lupini?

Plant-based protein snacks

The beans are billed as the Mediterranean’s answer to edamame. These yellow legume seeds also have the added advantage of absorbing other flavours.

Traditionally, they are eaten as a pickled snack in the Mediterranean basin and Latin America. The beans also have an interesting history, apparently being used as food in the Roman Empire to sustain soldiers during long marches.

For Aaron Gatti, lupini beans were a trip down memory lane. The American was introduced to the snack as a kid when visiting his father’s family in Italy. But it wasn’t until years later, when his vegetarian wife tried the beans and suggested he make them with different flavours, that his business Brami was born. (In case you were wondering, it’s an ancient Italian verb that means ‘to yearn for.’)

Grandmothers typically prepare lupini beans before the Christmas holidays in Italy, soaking them for two weeks to eliminate their natural bitterness.

In his Brooklyn kitchen, Gatti experimented with his own process to keep the snacks as healthy as possible. Rather than using artificial preservatives and excessive salt, which are found in most jarred lupini beans in Italy, he experimented with soaking the beans and marinating them in a flavoured brine to give it a more intensely pickled taste.

He created four options to snack on – sea salt, chilli lime, garlic and herb, and hot pepper – and the packed pods were released into some Whole Foods stores in 2016.

His dream is for the beans to become the go-to healthy protein snack – one to rival meat jerky – though they could also be used in salads. According to the Brami website, lupini have 50% more protein than chickpeas, 80% fewer calories than almonds, 2.6 times more minerals than coconut water and 35% more fibre than oats. What a set of ‘superfood’ stats!

These little gems have even reached Australia, and are now actually grown there. They are said to be good for the environment too, with claims that the crop supports the environment by ‘fixing’ nitrogen to soils and improving fertility.

The Australian company Beanopini offers them as a snack in flavours such as sea salt, turmeric, oregano and chilli. The beans are prepared with no fancy technology or sneaky shortcuts, according to its website, just in small batches where they are soaked and lightly pickled with herbs and spices.

A ripening market

So where is the lupini to be seen in the UK? Well, no one seems to have jumped on it here yet.

But Bull notes that lupini beans have tremendous potential with Brits, despite some challenges.

He predicts there will be work done to develop crop and produce, as well as the logistics of bringing the product to consumers at an affordable price. Lupini is currently grown in considerable quantities in Spain and Portugal.

It’s already a staple in Italy and has gotten a start in both the US and Australia. The UK may be dragging its feet, but an opportunity exists to bounce the bean onto shelves.

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