Lupines or Lupins are members of the Genus Lupinus in the Legume family. This Genus consists of 200 to 600 species. Seeds of various species of lupins have been used as a food for over 3000 years around the Mediterranean and for as much as 6000 years in the Andean highlands. But they have not been accorded the same status as soy beans or dry peas and other pulse crops.
The pearl lupin of the Andean highlands of South America is extensively cultivated, by selecting larger and water-permeable seeds. The seeds are washed in running water so as to remove the bitter alkaloids. They are then cooked or toasted to make them edible.
These are Herbaceous Perennial plants usually 1 to 5 feet tall. Some of them are annual plants and a few others 10 feet tall shrubs. One species in Mexico grows to a tree 8 meters tall and measures 8 inches in diameter at the trunk.
Lupins have soft green to grey-green leaves coated in silvery hairs. The leaf blades are usually divided into 5 to 28 leaflets, or reduced to a single leaflet in a few species of the south-eastern United States.
The flowers are produced in dense or open whorls on an erect spike, each flower 1–2 cm long. The pea-like flowers have an upper banner, two lateral wings, and the two lower petals form a keel. The fruit contains several seeds in a pod.
Lupin beans, the seeds of lupins, were popular with the Romans, who cultivated the plants throughout the Roman Empire.
Australian Sweet Lupins are high in protein, dietary fibre and antioxidants. They are very low in starch, and are gluten-free. Lupins can be used to make a variety of foods both sweet and savoury including everyday meals, traditional fermented foods, baked foods and sauces.
Lupin beans are commonly sold pickled in a salt solution in jars and can be eaten with or without the skin. Lupini dishes are most commonly found in Europe, especially in Portugal, Egypt, Greece, and Italy, and also in Brazil.
Lupins were also used by Native Indians in North America. The seeds are used for different foods, from vegan sausages to lupin flour used in baking.
Originally cultivated as a green manure, lupins are grown for their seeds, as an alternative to Soya beans. Sweet lupins are highly regarded as a stock feed. The market for lupin seeds for human consumption is currently small, but researchers believe it has great potential.
Lupin seeds are considered “superior” to soy-beans and there is increasing evidence for their potential health benefits. They contain similar protein to soybean but have less fat. As a food source, they are probiotic, gluten free, rich in fibre , amino acids and antioxidants.
Three species of lupins – the blue lupin, the yellow lupin and the white lupin are widely cultivated for livestock and poultry feed in Mediterranean.
Like other legumes, they can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere fertilizing the soil for other plants. This adaption allows lupins to be tolerant of infertile soils and capable of pioneering change in barren and poor-quality soils.