A friend recently gifted me a bag of brined lupini beans in a vacuum-sealed pouch. The packaging was a little silly, but my skepticism was quickly squashed by their unusual and complex deliciousness. Slightly spicy and tangy but also buttery like a gigante bean, they are a refreshing alternative to the omnipresent garbanzo and cannellini. Lupini are similar to fava beans in size and shape, but more closely resemble soy beans in savory taste and silky texture with a higher protein density per calorie than not only soy but most other crop plants in the world. Like all properly prepared legumes, they were toothsome without being crunchy and made for a satisfying, protein-packed snack. Could lupini beans be the next trendy superfood, finally pushing aside the now-passé edamame? Will bags of blanched and frozen lupini start showing up at the local Whole Foods?
Empathically, no. And for one simple reason: Lupini are a seriously high-maintenance bean. Also known as the Easter bean, lupini are typically reserved for special occasions due to the extremely lengthy preparation process. Beans, in general, require patience. Overnight soaking, use of pressure cookers, and hours of slow simmering are to be expected. What lupini require, however, far exceeds mere patience. If not prepared correctly, lupini beans are extremely bitter, indicative of toxicity, known as lupin poisoning. Lupin poisoning is relatively common with legumes high in alkaloids, like lupini beans, and can temporarily impair nervous system responsiveness and cause digestive discomfort. Thorough soaking and dutiful rinsing is crucial to ensure alkaloids are removed and the beans are “debittered.”
Exactly how long do you have to soak the beans? Depending on who you consult, the beans should be soaked for several days up to two weeks, and you should mindful to rinse and change the water daily. Most recipes require that the beans still be simmered until tender after soaking. For those willing to invest the time and expense (bags of dry lupini beans cost, on average, over $12 per pound) required to cook these ancient legumes from scratch, they are worth the wait. Rich in texture, nuanced in flavor profile, and fun to eat, they are one of the tastiest beans worth discovering in the heirloom bean movement. Because yes, that’s a thing now.
Or you can do like I did and obtain a pack of Brami, prepared lupini beans you can buy at health food stores. Brami founder and CEO Aaron Gatti says, “Lupini are totally unknown outside of certain immigrant communities, but we’re preparing it in a new, unique way. It took six months to perfect the recipe.”
Understandable, considering the preparation process is so arduous and there’s no guarantee your beans will turn out edible unless you’re quite familiar with them.
“You can have a terrible experience eating lupini beans. European brands use artificial preservatives like potassium sorbate, but they also use lactic acid for the acidification, whereas we use organic vinegar, lemon juice and sea salt,” says Gatti. “The flavor profile of lupini is interesting on its own — it’s a foundation that you can build dishes on. Plus, it isn’t soy so it doesn’t have the disadvantages that come with soy. Lupini are basically just protein, fiber, and minerals.”
The beans also make a fun and unexpected bar snack. Toss in a marinade of olive oil, fresh herbs, roasted peppers, and salt/pepper for a healthier alternative.