Earmarked as the next major competitor to soybean as a high protein source, lupin flour, a food ingredient used in pasta and bread products, has attracted attention from food safety officials in Australia following reports of severe allergic reactions.
Lupin (Lupinus angustifolius L.) is the major grain legume grown in Australia and production exceeds 800,000 tons per year. Used mainly for feed, since 2001 in Australia lupin bran and flour have been used as a substitute in food formulations for more expensive traditional cereal grains.
The average protein content of lupin is just over 30 per cent, compared with 44 to 48 per cent in soybeans, but recent trials by the Australian department of agriculture have come up with a new yellow lupin (Lupinus luteus) capable of producing a grain containing up to 40 per cent of high-quality protein, which can produce a kernel meal with a protein content of 52 per cent, making it a potentially attractive option for food makers looking to source food-grade proteins.
But a recent study in the Medical Journal of Australia (Vol 181:4, 16 August 2004) reports three cases of people with allergic reactions after eating products containing lupin.
People allergic to peanuts may also be allergic to lupin because the major allergens in lupin are also found in peanuts.
In response to the study, Food Standards Australia New Zealand agency has called for calm, saying it does not consider that lupin "should be included in the list of major allergens as its use is not widespread. Lupin is not considered a major allergen in Europe or in the USA."
Tough new laws on food allergens that enter into force in Europe in November will require food manufacturers to list 12 potentially allergic ingredients, and their derivatives. Lupin flour is not included in the listing.
"At the time when consultations for the European directive began about two years ago, we at the UK-based Institute of Food Science & Technology suggested that lupin flour be included in the list," leading food technologist Prof. J Ralph Blanchfield said to FoodNavigator.com.
But in fact the suggestion was rejected, with the final list for directive 2003/89/EC (amending Directive 2000/13/EC) applying to cereals containing gluten, fish, crustaceans, eggs, peanuts, soy, milk and dairy products, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame seed, and sulphites.
At an open meeting in 2002, the UK's Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) agreed that the allergenicity of lupin was an issue, but noted that "most foods are allergenic to a greater or lesser extent".
Researchers at the Australian Department of Agriculture see strong growth for lupin as a food ingredient in the near future. Sofia Sipsas, a lead researcher on the new high-protein lupin, says that because the protein can be extracted from the lupin flour, it can be used as an ingredient just the same as protein taken from milk (casein and whey), or egg-whites.
In Europe, lupin flour is already being used in bakery and pasta products because it can replace eggs and butter to enhance colour and additional potential uses of lupins are in crunchy cereals and snacks, baby formula, soups and salads. Lupin flour also allows bakers to use less oil, claims the Australian researcher.
In addition to the protein, the researchers say lupin flour also contains non-starch polysaccharides which act like both soluble (oat fibre) and insoluble (wheat bran) fibre.
Previous research suggests that lupin kernel fibres could lower blood cholesterol, and lupin fibre when used as an ingredient has a high satiating factor, lengthening the time before people feel hungry.
French lupin flour supplier CANA says that the flour has a high content of natural antioxidants, including tocopherols - "50 g of lupin flour provides 100 per cent of the recommended daily amount of alpha-tocopherol (RDA 2001).
"Lupin flour was reintroduced to France in the 1990s, principally for its nutritional properties," said the co-operative, based in western France.