Anyone attempting to adhere to a plant-based diet can tell you all about the careful planning that goes into consuming all nine essential amino acids in a given meal. And while all of those bases can generally be covered by eating many combinations of legumes like beans or lentils alongside a whole grain like wheat or rice, the math gets a little more complicated for those that are gluten-free. So it’s no surprise that one gluten-free, plant-based, complete protein – meaning it contains all nine essential aminos – is now making waves across health and wellness. But chances are, you haven’t heard too much about it, so here’s what you need to know about lupin:
What we call lupin is actually the seed of the lupinus genus of flowering plants. These seeds are technically legumes, and share some common characteristics with chickpeas, soybeans, lentils and peas. Though the plant may sound unfamiliar to many of us in the U.S., it’s actually a popular crop in Australia, where 85% of the world’s supply is harvested. When prepared for consumption, lupin have the appearance of buttery, pale yellow pods. They sort of look like a cross between corn kernels and lima beans, and taste like, well, not very much at all. The flavor and texture are both quite docile, hungry to take on the flavor of other foods they are prepared with.
These modest-looking legumes pack a mighty healthy punch though. In addition to being an aforementioned complete protein, starchy lupin is also an excellent source of fiber. Compounding benefits, lupin is a prebiotic, meaning it is a naturally-occurring source of nutrients not just for human bodies, but for the specific sets of beneficial bacteria and microorganisms that make up the gut biome in our digestive tracts. Our bodies rely on these microorganisms to assist in digestion and the extraction of nutrients from our food, so keeping them well-fed is of critical – but often overlooked – importance.
Though it hasn’t broken out in the states just yet, lupin is enjoyed in various parts of the world. In Spain, it can often be spotted on bar tops amongst a spread of tapas. Here, lupin is soaked before eating in bowls of salt. In parts of South America, lupin is smoked or roasted much like peanuts are often prepared.
Lupins! The seeds of lupins, (lupin beans), were popular with the Romans, who cultivated the plants throughout the Roman Empire. Seeds of various species of lupins have been used as a food for over 3000 years around the Mediterranean and for as long as 6000 years in the Andean highlands. The Andean lupin was a widespread food in the Incan Empire. Lupins were also used by many Native American peoples such as the Yavapai in North America.
But lupin has never really broken on through to the major leagues. So what gives? It turns out that like so many other legumes – here’s looking at you, beans – lupin can take quite a long time to properly prepare. The seeds are usually low-boiled into submission over the course of several hours before humans ever pop a handful into their mouths. Livestock, on the other hand, with their ability to digest the plant raw, still account for the majority of lupin consumption in the world. It’s not hard to see why our grab-and-go culture hadn’t yet heavily invested in the plant.
But a new lupin technological breakthrough is finally paving the way for a cultural invasion as well. Enter, lupin flakes. By first dehulling the whole seeds, and then splitting and milling them, lupin can be ground down into flakes or a coarse flour, akin to cornmeal. These lupin flakes are far more versatile than their whole form, and can be added to other flours, grains, granolas and salads. You can even fry chicken or fish in a thick coating of them. Revolupin Flakes chief scientist Sofi Sipsa tells The Telegraph, “It’s best to eat a little every day. 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.”
Glycemic load, you say? That’s right. Replacing even just a small amount of wheat flour with lupin flakes has been shown to lower blood pressure and insulin sensitivity. And because lupin is higher in protein and fiber than it is in carbohydrates, lupin-enriched foods can also help assist with weight loss.
Nutritionists say to move slowly when adding lupin to your diet. The rich, fibrous legume can be a shock to the system at first, causing bloating and gas if you eat too much of it. And finally, there’s something that allergy-sensitive people should take note of: even though lupin is a legume, it can trigger allergic reactions among those with nut allergies –which really shouldn’t be so surprising, considering that peanuts too are actually legumes.