There’s a lot more to the humble lupin than green fertiliser or stock feed. SIMON SHEPHERDSON spoke to David Fienberg, founder of The Lupin Co, about the exceptional nutritional benefits of this once maligned legume.
Lupins have long been a popular choice among Australian farmers to replenish nitrogen in the soil. And for a long time, the general consensus was that the resulting crop of lupin beans were best destined for stock feed.
But according to David Fienberg, Founder and Chief “Lupinologist” of WA-based The Lupin Co, there’s growing interest in the use of WA-grown lupins for human consumption, both in Australia and globally.
That’s largely thanks to the Australian Sweet Lupin, a variety developed in WA thanks to work by Dr John Gladstones at the University of Western Australia back in the 1950s and 60s. While various other varieties of lupins – and there are more than 100 of them around the world – generally produce beans that require brining before they can be consumed to remove bitter tasting and toxic alkaloids, the Australian Sweet Lupin can be eaten straight out of the pod. But it’s the value-add opportunities that are driving The Lupin Co.
David says the positive impacts of lupins were well understood among WA farmers, who had observed the many benefits derived when feeding them to sheep.
“We always knew that lupins provided an amazing uplift in health when fed to sheep,” he said.
“Even fertility rates rose significantly. We knew anecdotally that feeding lupins to rams made them more fertile. Now the science shows that it effectively doubles their sperm rate within weeks.”
But the real benefit, according to David, is the fact that the Australian Sweet Lupin contains 40 per cent protein content, compared to red meat which averages 26 per cent. It also has only 4 per cent carbohydrates, while bread contains up to 65 per cent. These were compelling reasons for David and his founding partners to establish The Lupin Co back in 2016 and embrace the commercial opportunities the wonder food provided.
“With obesity and diabetes being rampant globally, consumers were starting to look at foods that had that combination of high protein and low carbohydrates to ameliorate the effects of many modern foods,” David said.
In fact, Perkins Institute head Professor Peter Leedman, who was previously head of the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research and chief scientist of the Centre for Food and Genomic Medicine, was researching the benefits of lupins as part of a diet to overcome the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity as far back as 2007.
“Professor Leedman said to me that one day lupins would be prescribed as a medicine,” David said.
“And there’s a whole range of additional health benefits recognised too. The dietary fibre of lupins, for example, is 38 per cent. In the modern world we have massive gut issues and dietary fibre is what we call a prebiotic, which feeds the really good bacteria in the gut.”
David says The Lupin Co saw lupins as a great competitor compared to other emerging plant proteins. The Australian Sweet Lupin is quite neutral in flavour, allowing it to be used as a base ingredient to develop a broad range of foods.
Today, The Lupin Co, which has established a processing facility at Bullsbrook just north of Perth, creates a range of lupin-based products including cereals, cake and biscuit mixes, protein bars and even savoury rice options.
Products are sold online and through a large list of health food stores and supermarkets around the country, while wholesale to food manufacturers is gaining traction in export markets.
One of the advantages of being located in close proximity to Perth is that coupled with a growing appetite for plant-based proteins, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with the provenance story behind the food they eat.
“Provenance is not just about the fact it comes from Australia and therefore it must be good,” David said.
“It’s not just Western Australia. It’s not just that it comes from farm A or farm B. People are wanting to know the whole story, about fungicides, insecticides, air quality, soil quality and soil history.
“We’re really focused on telling that story. We are trying really hard to align our entire business to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. There are 17 of them and while we can’t tick off all of them, we do address most and we’re trying to align our business to those as a benchmark.
“We want to show that we are attempting to deliver a healthy product in a sustainable way so we can leave the world a better place.”
CLICK HERE to find out more about The Lupin Co.
NOTE: Lupins have been found to hold similar allergens to those in peanuts and soy beans, so anyone with known allergies should seek advice before consuming lupin-based products.