It’s about time beans get the attention they deserve. The deliciously versatile food group is a staple among some of the longest-living people on the planet and packs a bevy of health benefits—like plant-based protein and gut-friendly fiber—at a low cost. While Americans have been eating certain varieties of beans (such as pinto, navy, and red kidney beans) for centuries, all signs point to a beloved overseas staple starting to dominate store shelves and dinner plates in 2023: the lupini bean (also called lupin bean), a yellow cousin of the lima bean with roots in the Middle East that has a recorded history of use that dates back to Ancient Egypt.
These environmentally-friendly legumes are similar to fava beans in terms of size and shape, but their subtle earthy, nutty flavor is closer to that of soybeans—and they’re already showing up in a variety of packaged food products in the form of pop-em-in-your-mouth crunchy lupini snacks, pastas, tater tots, and protein bars. In 2023, as Americans increasingly gravitate towards budget-friendly, high-protein plant foods that pack a boatload of nutrition (and taste good), expect lupini beans to become a starring source of plant-based protein that benefits people and the planet alike.
The overall legume market has been on the rise for the last few years, quickly becoming a staple for plant-based eaters in search of nourishing protein sources. “According to Innova Marketing Insights, nearly 3,300 new products containing pulses [the edible seed from a legume plant, which includes beans, peas, and lentils] launched in 2021, and more than 2,300 have been launched so far in 2022,” says Becky Garrison, director of domestic marketing at USA Pulses. In 2022, Future Market Insights valued the lupini bean protein market at $89 million, and by 2032, they project its value to reach $142.4 million, meaning demand for this plant-based protein source is expected to grow by over 60 percent in the next 10 years. Market research company Technavio estimates that the overall, global lupini bean market will grow by nearly $8 billion annually over the next four years alone.
A slew of lupini-based foods have already made headway in the market, with brands like Lupii, Brami, KaiZen, and Cento Fine Foods leading the charge. Lupii, a lupini-based food company that launched its lupini-bean-based protein bars in 2020, introduced a variety of lupini pasta products in August 2022. According to Food Business News, Lupii is on track to double its gross revenue next year. KaiZen also brought a high-protein pasta made with lupini flour (its first launch) to market earlier this year. Brami, founded in 2016, offers ready-to-snack lupini beans marinated in seasonings like chili lime and garlic rosemary, protein-packed lupini pastas, and lupini bean-based dips (the taste and texture of which are similar to hummus, and come in flavors like garlic and rosemary and Italian pepper). This year, the brand launched a new Mediterranean Medley lupini bean flavor that’s available nationwide in Whole Foods, as well as a new line of lupini bean flour pastas.
Meanwhile, The Real Good Food Co. Inc., a health-focused frozen food company, released Real Good Crispy Tots made with lupini beans earlier this year. And Cento Fine Foods released jars of ready-to-eat peeled lupini beans at the start of 2022, which are perfect for tossing into soups, salads, or eating on their own with a drizzle of olive oil. “This new lupini product has been super well-received, and we’re projecting even higher sales for next year,” Maurice Christino, vice president of Cento Fine Foods, says.
So among all the legumes we have to choose from Stateside, why are lupini beans taking center stage? According to Isabelle Steichen, the co-founder and CEO of Lupii, lupini beans’ unique nutritional value and sustainability factor sets them apart from other plant-based protein sources as well as more widely-known beans, like chickpeas. “When it comes to eating plant-based, it seems like there's a real concern that plants don't deliver on the protein and nutrient fronts,” Steichen says. “This was my inspiration to introduce lupini beans to the U.S. market. They have more protein than any other bean—even more than soy—and they’re great for soil health. This is a key reason why many healthy food brands are looking to incorporate ulta high-protein lupini beans into their products.”
"They have more protein than any other bean—even more than soy—and they’re great for soil health.” Isabelle Steichen, co-founder and CEO of Lupii
Registered dietitian Rachel Naar, RD, confirms that lupini beans are a nutritional gold mine. “They pack about 16 grams of protein per 100-gram serving—for reference, black beans have five grams per serving—and are a super source of zinc and magnesium, which plays a role in digestion, muscle health, sleep, and immune health. Lupini beans also have three times the fiber of oats and all nine essential amino acids,” Naar says.
What’s more, sustainability-minded consumers are looking for more environmentally friendly protein options (meat consumption is a major driver of climate change), and lupini beans are considered a regenerative crop. According to Regeneration International, this means they can help “reverse climate change by rebuilding organic matter in soil and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.”
“Lupini beans have the ability to biologically ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen for the plant itself, enhance soil microbiology, and add fertility to the soil for the following crop [rotation],” says David Oien, a third-generation farmer and co-founder and CEO of Timeless Natural Foods, a leading Montana-based pulse and grain grower. In layman’s terms? Nitrogen fixing (or biological nitrogen fixation) is the natural process in which nitrogen molecules that are freely floating in the air are combined with other organic compounds, such as ones found in soil. Plants need nitrogen to grow (it’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation—they need enough, but not too much). And while farmers can add synthetic nitrogen-rich fertilizer to their crops in order to increase production in the short-term, doing so can degrade the soil’s health over time. Plants like lupini beans that encourage nitrogen fixing, therefore, cut down on farmers’ reliance on synthetic fertilizers in order to improve crop yields, reduce agricultural emissions, and improve the health of soil.
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As lupini beans become a stronghold of the legume market in the U.S., businesses are determined to bring the supply chain closer to home. “There has been a push over the last three years to build more resilient supply chains—and right now, resilient means local; it means U.S.-based. Building a stronger supply chain means investing in crops that will give farmers an economic future and respond to consumer demand, and it's exciting to be part of that wave of new brands that are really focused on that," Steichen says. To start sourcing U.S.-grown lupini beans, Lupii is working with Oien and his team of pulse growers.
In 2023, lupini will continue to pop up in a variety of new food products. In December 2022, KaiZen is launching three new lupini-based pasta shapes made with a new formulation that Arash Hashemi, CEO and founder of KaiZen, says has a taste much more in line with standard wheat pasta. The company is also planning big launches next year in two other new categories that, while under wraps, Hashemi hints are “truly going to help accelerate the popularity of lupini beans.” You can expect lupini beans to make their way to the dessert aisle, too, thanks to HighKey, a healthy snack food company that debuted in 2018. John Gibb, the company’s chief innovation officer, says that HighKey is set to launch a sweet lupini-based product in 2023.
Demand for the small but mighty lupini beans—and products made from them—will be larger than life next year, thanks to their high nutritional value, versatile flavor, and expanding domestic production, which is great for both strengthening the U.S. lupini market and for supporting agricultural sustainability. “I think lupini beans will continue to grow for the foreseeable future,” says Aaron Gatti, CEO of Brami. “They are incredibly sustainable, healthy, and delicious.” A new queen bean has been crowned. ✙
Photography by Tim Gibson, Art Direction by Jenna Gibson for Well+Good
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