What’s a “superfood”? According to the Oxford Dictionary, a superfood is “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being”. However, it’s obvious that this is a marketing term…who slaps the descriptor on foods? Certainly not health experts with any credibility.
There are no “superfoods”…there’s no one food that will kill you nor cure you. In the EU, the marketing of “superfoods” is prohibited unless accompanied by a specific authorized health claim supported by credible scientific research. According to Wikipedia, the ruling was issued to guide marketing by manufacturers to assure proof of scientific evidence for why a particular food would be labeled as healthy or classified as a superfood.
However, there are foods that are undisputedly superior in terms of their nutrient content. For example, quinoa, the ancient “super-grain” of the Andes, is super-nutritious. Quinoa is actually a seed more closely related to spinach and the sugar beet than to grains, but like no other grain, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, also known as the building blocks of protein. Like most plant foods quinoa is low in fat and is cholesterol and gluten-free, and is a rich source of fiber.
Is chocho the next “superfood”?
This is no new food-fad discovery; no, chocho (lupine bean, lupin), is an ancient bean of the Andes, and varieties of the Lupinus genus grow around the world. L. albus have been found throughout the Mediterranean basin: archeologists discovered lupin seeds in tombs of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. Andean pre-Incan inhabitants of present-day Peru domesticated the Latin American L. mutabilis about 1,500 years ago. In North America, native Yavapai used lupins.
This pearly-white little bean is outstandingly nutritious. A one-cup (166 grams) serving has about 200 calories, 26 grams of protein, about five grams of healthy fat, and only 16 grams of carbohydrate, five of them from fiber. About 40% of its calories come from protein, about 40% from carbohydrate including fiber, and about 20% from unsaturated healthy fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fats. It’s also a good source of calcium (8% of DRI), iron (11% DRI), and vitamin C (3%). The flour created from the lupin bean contains more than 50% protein. The only limiting amino acid is methionine, so serving with corn maize solves that problem.
According to scientists publishing in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, the ancient pre-Colombians living in the Andes were “perfectly adapted to their ecology”. Invasion of the Spaniards forced natives to replace cultivation of quinoa and lupins with “Old World” barley and wheat.
It may be that the Spaniards had no idea that the beans were so nutritious. Absolutely, these beans must be prepared with care. The L. mutabilis bean is quite high in bitter alkaloids, especially spartein. Failure to properly remove alkaloids from lupine beans can lead to lupini toxicity, manifesting as nausea, weakness, and visual disturbances. The alkaloids are water-soluble, so seeds are commonly repeatedly soaked and rinsed for days before cooking.
In the 1989 book Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation it’s noted that “tarwi” (Quechua for lupine) is especially important for highlanders of the high Andes. Since their diets are low in protein and calories the high quality protein and high oil content of tarwi provides a double nutritional benefit.
Since I do not eat red meat and am always eager to hear about benefits of plant foods, I was interested to read an article in El Comercio touting the “medical properties” of chocho, a little bean popular in many dishes in Ecuador, Peru and other Latin American cuisines. In excited language, the scientists described the “super-powered” nutrients in this modest Andean bean. With similar nutrition to quinoa, new findings link chocho to even more significant health benefits. Score another one for the plant kingdom!
Recent research credits L. mutabilis to improvement in type 2 diabetes. In a previous article about type 2 diabetes, I described the condition as one of insulin resistance or insulin insufficiency. Scientists have shown that our Andean L. mutabilis promotes release of insulin from the pancreas.
Chochos are a low glycemic index food (low GI), which is also linked to improvement in blood glucose. The combination of high fiber and complex carbohydrate helps lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure.
In all, research shows that lupins are excellent for all aspects of good health. The fact that they’re full of fiber and protein is extremely useful for weight management.
And the lupin plant is good for the planet. A column in Modern Farmer notes that the tarwi plant is “gorgeous”, with bright purple/blue flowers that smell like fresh honey, and they attract beneficial insects and fix nitrogen in the soil. They note that tarwi grows well in poor soil with low acidity and is a good pioneer plant for depleted soils.
Researchers are working on improved cultivation methods globally, including Australia, South Africa, and in the U.S. as well. It’s noted that engineers have developed machinery to de-bitter tarwi seeds, and scientists are working on cross-breeding the more alkaloid rich beans with other less alkaloid strains to create a low-alkaloid variety that will grow in more temperate climates.
One caveat about chochos: if you are allergic to peanuts you could be allergic to chochos. Since this legume belongs to the same plant family as peanuts, there may be a risk of anaphylaxis. Since lupins are naturally gluten-free, manufacturers are sometimes adding a flour derived from this bean to replace wheat in products such as flours or in other processed foods utilizing gluten as a filler or thickener. Read packaged foods labels carefully to identify “lupin” or “lupine” on the label.
I’ve enjoyed chocho in soups, stews and ceviches in Cuenca, so I went looking for chocho beans to prepare at home. When I didn’t see them in the dried beans section of the supermercado, I went to a favorite local expert source, the Facebook page Food & Cooking In Ecuador. This experienced bunch advised that I’d find them already cooked and packaged in the fresh produce section of Tia and Supermaxi — they already knew that this particular bean is edible only after soaking for some days and require a lot of processing from scratch. So, I bought a 250 gram-bag of properly processed and packaged beans at Tia for $0.99. The beans are pasteurized and ready to add to your favorite dish, and the sell-by date tells me they’re good for a month — keep refrigerated.
Laylita.com is a good online source for Ecuadorian and Latin American recipes. She has a nice recipe for vegetarian ceviche de chochos, which calls for cooked beans. Find the recipe here. The website Que Vida Rica also notes that in Europe the lupin variety is known as L. albus, known as “altramuz” in Spain and as “lupini beans” in other countries.
CuencaHighLife. Is there a cure for diabetes? https://www.cuencahighlife.com/is-there-a-cure-for-diabetes/
El Comercio. Scientists reveal medical properties of lupine and mortiño.
Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. Chemical Composition of a New Variety of the Andean Lupin (Lupinus mutabilis cv. Inti) with Low-Alkaloid content. http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/institute/fak14/ipmb/phazb/pubwink/1988/1.%201988.pdf
Modern Farmer: Tarwi: The Total Package. http://modernfarmer.com/2013/04/tarwi-the-total-package/
National Research Council. 1989. Lost Crops of the Incas: Little Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. National Academy Press, Washington D.C. http://www.nap.edu/read/1398/chapter/1
Self Nutrition Data: Lupins. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4345/2
Wikipedia: Lupin bean. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupin_bean
Wikipedia: Lupinus mutabilis. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lupinus_mutabilis
Wikipedia: Superfood. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superfood