Gluten free; low carb; plant-based protein; essential amino acids; prebiotics. If there were a food that embodied all these dietary buzzwords you’d probably have heard of it by now, seen it plastered all over social media, and filled your larder with kilos of the stuff.
Well, there is – though it’s only just starting to make waves. The latest super-healthy food doing the rounds is lupin, the legume seed of the popular colourful flower. Lupin’s late entry into the health-trend world stems partly from it not being very photogenic (avocados are much better for Instagram), and from its relative lack of flavour (they have a slightly bitter taste and require a fair bit of soaking and cooking to make them palatable). But what sets it apart from a long list of healthy grains and superfoods?
Over the past two decades, scientists have been studying its properties and believe lupin will now have its time in the sun. “Lupin flakes have a unique combination of low-carb, gluten-free, plant-based protein and prebiotic fibres, with high levels of bioavailable essential amino acids and minerals,” explains Sofi Sipsa, chief scientist for Revolupin Flakes, one of the leading manufacturers.
“Coupling this with the growing movement to more plant-based diets, gluten-free diets and in particular our understanding of the importance of prebiotic fibres on the microbiome, it’s a convergence of factors that have created the right environment for its popularity.”
Nutritionist Fiona Hunter feels encouraged by the potential benefits the lupin bean might bring to our diet. “The fact that it contains significantly more protein and fibre, and fewer carbs, than wheat flour makes it very interesting in terms of producing foods which are beneficial for slimmers. Lupin also contains prebiotic fibres which can help the growth of ‘friendly’ probiotic bacteria in the gut.”
Hunter points to studies showing that people who replaced regular flour with lupin flour experienced lower blood pressure and insulin sensitivity. Separate research suggests those eating lupin-enriched bread ate fewer calories at lunch than those consuming white bread. “This suggests lupin can help with satiety,” says Hunter.
Lupin (or lupini) beans are members of the legume family, closely related to chickpeas, lentils, peas, soybeans and peanuts. The beans have long been a popular snack in Mediterranean countries and in South America, where they’re often soaked in salt and eaten raw, or roasted and snacked on like peanuts.
Today, Australia produces over 85 per cent of the world’s lupin, though until recently much has been used for stock feed. But producers such as Revolupin Flakes are helping to make them more suitable for the modern, western diet. While most of us don’t have the time or inclination to boil down beans into something delicious, grinding them into flakes makes for a versatile, palatable, and quick way to get your lupin fix.
“It’s best to eat a little every day,” she explains. “The simplest way is by adding a tablespoon to your porridge. This will increase your protein and fibre intake while lowering your glycemic load in the morning.” You could also add to smoothies, blend into flour for breads and cakes, or use as a couscous alternative in salads or dips. Another option is mixing them in scrambled eggs, or even coating fish or chicken before frying. Because they have a neutral (read: bland) flavour, they won’t alter the taste of your favourite dishes.
Lupin flakes may have many health benefits including managing blood sugar, lowering energy intake while increasing satiety, and reducing glycemic load, but Lupin Food, who produce the flakes, urge consumers not to treat it as a panacea, with their website making it clear that they are “not a magic pill”.
Nevertheless, with lupin ticking so many health-food boxes, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing more of the little beans before too long.