• Lupin products are a good substitution for breadcrumbs or wheat flour. (Alan Benson)Source: Alan Benson
Lupin is good news for those with gluten problems and vegans - it's high in plant protein - but, because it belongs to the legume family, peanut-allergy sufferers should be cautious.
Emma Stirling

13 May 2019 - 1:21 PM  UPDATED 6 Dec 2019 - 3:02 PM

Lupin, once only used as animal fodder, is a great source of gluten-free plant protein. That's good news for vegans and those with gluten problems, with lupin flour and flakes becoming more readily available. Lupin flour has even made it into pastry kitchens, thanks to its earthy flavour notes, like that of Pierrick Boyer, who serves pancakes made from lupin flour at his new Pierrick Boyer Café Patisserie in Prahran, Melbourne. Boyer has experimented extensively with lupin flour and he sees its popularity growing in the future.

However, there’s a small group for whom it could potentially be an allergen.

Allergy alert

Lupins belong to the legume family and are a crop with bright yellow or white flowers harvested for the seeds or beans. They are naturally gluten free and one of the world’s richest known sources of combined plant protein (around 40 per cent) and dietary fibre (around 30 per cent).

However, last year, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) added lupin to the list of nine allergens that must be declared on food labels. You see, as lupin is a legume like peanut, it is possible for people with peanut allergy to have a similar reaction.

FSANZ CEO Mark Booth says, “Historically, most of the Australian sweet lupin crop has been used for animal feed or exported. However, because of its high protein and fibre content, lupin is increasingly being used in food for people. Due to the increase in use in food and some cases of allergic response, FSANZ decided lupin should be one of the allergens requiring mandatory declaration.”

According to the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy only around 5 per cent of children and 2 per cent of adults have food allergies and the confirmed cases of lupin allergies have been few. However, if you have a known peanut or soy allergy, it’s important to speak to your health professional before trialling lupin products.

Lupin unearthed

Western Australia is the world’s largest producer of lupin, growing 80 per cent of the world’s supply with a local variety called Australian Sweet Lupin (Lupinus angustifolius).

Legumes are good sources of protein.

Traditionally lupins were grown in Australia as a rotation crop (in between planting more valued corn, canola, wheat or oats) to enrich the soil with nitrogen. The resulting lupin beans were used as animal fodder and only became considered a human food source as research uncovered the  nutritional benefits. However, the family of lupins are ancient legumes and according to Associate Professor Antigone Kouris of La Trobe University. “Lupin cultivars have been consumed throughout the Mediterranean region and Andean mountains for thousands of years particularly as a cold, whole bean snack,” she says. As a leader in Mediterranean Diet research, La Trobe University has been actively studying Australian sweet lupins and Kouris has been so encouraged by the nutrition status she’s introduced the flour into her own commercial biscuit range.

Nutrition know-how

Like soy, lupin is rich in protein and one of a small number of plant foods with a complete set of amino acids; it is particularly rich in arginine. Commercially available as flakes, flour and split beans, lupins are gluten-free, lower in carbohydrate compared to wheat counterparts and have a low glycaemic index (GI) for improving blood glucose control

Australian sweet lupin has been shown to be phytonutrient rich and with  negligible amounts of anti-nutrition bitter compounds, like lectins and saponins, which can bind calcium and zinc. Associate Professor Kouris explains that this last fact sets Australian sweet lupins apart from ancient lupin cultivars and other legumes. “Anti-nutrition compounds can also cause gut discomfort and that’s why legumes [usually] need long cooking times. However Australian sweet lupin flakes and flour can be used uncooked, such as added to smoothies or yoghurts”.

Lupins are gluten-free, lower in carbohydrate compared to wheat counterparts and have a low glycaemic index (GI) for improving blood glucose control. 

Using enriched foods (at least 20 per cent lupin flour), preliminary human studies have shown promise for Australian sweet lupins in hunger or satiety management, insulin and blood glucose control, cholesterol and blood pressure lowering and improvements to gut health.  In one study people eating bread enriched with lupin in place of some wheat flour ate 20 per cent less food and reported an increased feeling of fullness.

Cooking and baking

Lupin is making its way into supermarket food products like high protein, low carb breads, people are sprouting lupins and lupin has been trialled as a base bean in place of or in combination with soy for fermentation into miso, tempeh and soy sauce.

Gluten-free baking
Our guide to gluten-free baking with tips and a glossary of alternative flours and ingredients, plus recipes (which happen to be dairy-free too!).

Lupin products are easy to incorporate into traditional recipes for a nutrition boost, as a substitution for breadcrumbs, wheat flour or other grain-based ingredients. The Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council recommends starting by substituting 5-20 per cent wheat flour with lupin flour in a traditional recipe.

For gluten-free baking, Boyer suggests experimenting with combining lupin flour with other gluten-free flours. “Remember that lupin flour doesn’t need much cooking time,” he adds.

Emma Stirling is an Australian Accredited Practising Dietitian. Follow her on Twitter.

Catch Helen Tzouganatos whipping up lush gluten-free meals in the brand new first series of Loving Gluten Free at 8:30pm Thursdays from 17 October to 19 December on SBS Food (channel 33), and later on SBS On Demand.

Gluten-free goodies
Hazelnut, rose & orange cake

What really brings this cake to life are the roasted strawberries - especially when roasted with orange juice and rosewater. 

Chocolate ricotta cake

This decadent chocolate ricotta cake is not only topped with fresh summer fruit and fragrant coconut, but is also gluten and refined-sugar free!  

Lime cheesecake tart

The base for this light and summery tart can be made a couple of days in advance and stored in an airtight container. Use any berries or summer fruits that are in season.

Kidney bean chocolate cake

‘Chocolate cake’ might be a bit of an understatement for this cake. Who would have imagined that a cake made with legumes could ever be this light and tasty? 

Chocolate, pistachio & cardamom scones

The buttermilk in conjunction with the bicarbonate of soda helps to give these scones an extra lift. 

Coconut raspberry jam slice

This is similar to the classic coconut jam slice, except this one is gluten free and made with chia jam. It is slightly softer, but just as moreish.