What the Heck Are Lupini Beans and Why Are They Popping Up Everywhere?
A staple of the Mediterranean diet, lupini beans are now making a name for themselves in the States. Here's what you need to know about this legume making waves in the world of plant-based proteins.
In a world where it's plant-based this and plant-based that, odds are, you've become quite familiar with chickpeas, lentils, and all the legumes in between. And, as with any ingredients on repeat, those legumes can get old, fast.
Enter: their ~hot new~ cousin, lupini beans.
Around the same size as fava beans, these yellow legumes are a nutritional powerhouse with nearly double the amount of protein that's in chickpeas. Sound familiar? That's probably because supermarkets are starting to stock plant-based snacks boasting lupini beans' benefits—and, honestly, it's about time. Here's the lowdown on all things lupini beans, so you know what the heck they are, why they're popping up in more packaged foods, and whether they're healthy. (Related: 10 High-Protein Plant-Based Snacks That Are Easy to Digest)
What Are Lupini Beans?
Lupini or lupin beans are a type of legume that comes from the flowering Lupinus plant, which is in the same food family as peas, chickpeas, and lentils. "They're commonly consumed in Mediterranean cuisines (especially Italy, Spain, and Portugal) and Latin American cuisines," says Ginger Hultin, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Champagne Nutrition. Because of their bitter taste (a result of naturally-occurring chemicals called alkaloids), lupini beans are often soaked in a brine and pickled and then eaten as a snack or part of an antipasto—although they're also a welcome addition to salads, pastas, or dips. (See also: Why You Should Brine Your Own Veggies and How to Do It)
"They also contain a thick, edible skin," says Alyssa Lavy, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., a registered dietitian and owner of Alyssa Lavy Nutrition & Wellness LLC. Although the skin may be hard to chew, it's thinner than an edamame pod and entirely edible. But if you don't like the chewiness of the skin, you can easily pull the seed out with your teeth and discard the skin, according to Lavy.
In the store, you'll likely find lupini beans pickled in jars, but you may also see the dried variety. Don't like the salty brine? No problem; you can make your own vinegar-free snack. But head's up, the soaking and cooking time required to leach out the bitter alkaloids takes several days. Patience is especially key here because if you don't soak off all of the alkaloids, lupini beans can be toxic, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Recently, manufacturers have started making lupini bean flour, which is naturally gluten-free and similar in taste to whole wheat flour. Lupini flour such as Wholesome Provision's Miracle Flour (Buy it, $16, amazon.com) has an impressive nutrient profile with 1g net carbs, 11g protein, and 11g fiber per serving. So it's higher in protein and lower in carbs than other gluten-free flours made from nuts, coconut, rice, or cassava. Home cooks are experimenting with lupini flour to add a protein boost to baked goods, such as bread, muffins, pancakes, and more. (Before you start playing around in the kitchen, here's exactly how to bake with new flours.)
Lupini Beans Nutrition Facts
"In 100g (about 50 beans) of lupini beans, there are 120 calories, 12g of protein, 13g of carbohydrate, over 3g of fiber, and 1g of fat," says Hultin. They have about a third more protein per square inch than many other beans and legumes. Plus, they have practically no starch, so they won't spike your blood sugar, and, in turn, will stave off hunger. (FYI, here's how much protein you need per day.)
Lupini beans also have a high level of prebiotic fiber, which contributes to the development of gut-healthy probiotics. But that's not all the little legume has on its resume: They're also rich in nutrients like energy-boosting B vitamins and bone-strengthening phosphorus and calcium. Also on that list? Manganese (essential for blood clotting), magnesium (aids in muscle contractions), iron (necessary for growth and development), and inflammation-fighting antioxidants. Plus, at just 60 calories in a 50g serving (around 25 beans), you get a lot of bang for your so-called buck.
There are, however, two minor downsides to lupini beans. "Because they're so commonly soaked in salt, they can be high in sodium," says Hultin. For example, 100g of the pickled variety has anywhere from around 200mg (8 percent of your daily recommended value) to 900mg sodium (about 40 percent of your daily recommended value), according to the USDA.
The other negative: Lupin is a legume similar to peanuts, so it may cause similar allergic reactions for those who have a peanut allergy, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That said, if you don't have any food allergies, there are a variety of benefits associated with lupini beans. (Not sure? Here's how to find out if you have a food allergy or food intolerance.)
The Health Benefits of Lupini Beans
For a little legume, these guys pack a ton of benefits into a small, skin-covered package. Research suggests eating legumes as part of a healthy diet can offer some serious health benefits, like reducing the risk of diabetes (something the keto diet might also be able to do, too), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even help with weight management.
Fiber is not only essential for keeping things, err, moving (think: digestion), but it also has the power to prevent cardiovascular disease. So, it's no surprise that lupini beans—which have around 3g of fiber (25 percent of your daily recommendation) per 100g serving—have been linked to heart health. A study of more than 100 participants found that those who ate lupin-enriched foods over a 12-month period experienced reductions in blood pressure, which can help stave off heart disease. (And this is especially important since young women are at a higher risk of heart attack than ever before.)
Cholesterol levels also play an important role in your heart's health and (good news!) research suggests eating lupini beans may lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol. The same study found that incorporating legumes such as lupini beans into your diet can also reduce the risk of colon cancer (another biggie among millennials these days).
These little legumes can also help establish a happy gut. Test tube studies have found the fiber in the lupini beans promotes the growth of helpful intestinal bacteria such as bifidobacteria, which is commonly found in probiotics and has been tied immune and digestive health.
How to Cook with Lupini Beans
"Besides being served brined, they can also be ground into flour and used in a variety of dishes," adds Hultin. If you buy them already cooked, add them to a salad for a salty topper or mix them in with a grain bowl.
If you opt for the dry bean, Lavy says it is important to properly soak and wash the lupini beans before cooking. "They come in two varieties: bitter and sweet. The bitter variety must be soaked, washed, and boiled multiple times over the course of a few days to remove the bitter alkaloids, whereas the sweet variety requires less rinsing and soaking," she adds.
With the bounty of plant-based protein in the bean, they can be used to add protein to practically any dish. (Related: Plant-Based Diet Recipes for Every Meal of the Day)
Add to salads. Lupini beans can serve as the protein source for any lettuce or grain salad. If you buy the pickled variety, add it to the big leafy green salad with other antipasto favorites, such as sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers.
Combine with roasted veggies. If you're looking for an easy meatless meal, roast up a tray of your favorite veggies and combine them with cooked lupini beans. Drizzle with your favorite sauce for an easy weeknight meal.
Add to pasta. Lupini beans can add texture and protein to a carb-filled pasta dish. Combine cooked pasta, cooked lupini beans, a healthy veggie (like roasted broccoli) and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice for a simple dish. (If this sounds delish to you, check out these creative pasta recipes featuring other legumes.)
Puree into a dip. Beans and legumes serve as the base of many hearty dips—hummus anyone? Lupini beans have a nutty flavor and texture that can be blended into a protein-packed dip. Throw some cooked lupini beans into a food processor with lemon, garlic, olive oil, and salt and process until smooth. Lather the dip on some seedy crackers for a filling snack. (See also: 13 Different Ways to Make Hummus)
Lupini Bean Products
Newly available packaged lupini snacks allow you to look beyond the traditional pickled varieties and pick up options that are marinated in delicious flavors or processed into bars or pseudo-grains. While there are only relatively few lupini product options in the U.S. right now, expect to see them popping up in more and more packaged goods. Ready to jump on the bean bandwagon? Here are a few expert-approved favorites:
"These lupini beans are ready-to-eat and come in a variety of delicious flavors," says Lavy. "Also, they don't need to be refrigerated until after the package is opened, making them a great travel snack." The only downside is that a serving of 25 beans has over 400mg of sodium, which is more sodium than you would find in a snack-size bag of pretzels. If you're watching your salt intake, Lavy cautions that this might not be the snack for you. But if your diet is full of lower-sodium, unprocessed foods, she says Brami Beans are probably fine to throw in the mix.
This microwaveable ground lupini bean pouch makes a perfect stand-in for rice, couscous, or even cauliflower rice. Just mix with water and microwave for three minutes. (Related: 9 Healthy Microwave Meals That'll Save You Time)
This lupini-based bar comes in interesting flavors, like Almond Butter Cinnamon Raisin, which contains simple ingredients like dates, lupini beans, almond butter, raisin, almonds, and cinnamon. Another pro? It has a similar amount of protein (9g) to other protein bars, like RX and CLIF Bars.