In the last year or two, lupini beans (pronounced loo-pee-nee) have started to hit the food scene and have been touted as being the hottest new food, but for us Italians, as well as other Mediterranean cultures (Spanish and Portuguese), chickpea's and lentil's hot new cousin has been around forever.
Lupini (or lupin) beans have been a staple in our home ever since I can remember. We typically use them as a snack or antipasto food and if you come over during the holidays, particularly Christmas time, or for an impromptu visit, you are almost guaranteed to find a bowl of these golden yellow and incredibly tasty beans on the table. If you haven't had them yet, I have no doubt you will be addicted after your first try!
What do they taste like?
Although lupini beans are part of the same family as chickpeas and lentils, their size most resembles that of fava beans, and their texture that of soybeans. As for their taste, it doesn't come close to any other legume out there. For starters they contain alkaloids, a naturally-occurring chemical responsible for its bitter taste, which you will definitely notice if you buy them dried and soak or cook them yourself.
Once soaked they have a mild, slightly nutty flavor and quickly pick up the flavors of whatever foods you mix them with, such as olives, garlic, rosemary, etc. However if you purchase them ready-to-eat their bitterness is never an issue and the flavor that comes through is mostly the saltiness from the brine.
Why Should You Eat Them?
Lupini beans are incredibly high in protein. Most legumes contain roughly 15 to 18 grams of protein per one cup serving, whereas lupini offer 26 grams for that same serving. They are also an excellent source of fiber (5 grams per cup), contain a good amount of iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, potassium, zinc and phosphorus, and offer vitamin A, B1, B2, B3, C and K, as well as folate and other beneficial nutrients.
How to buy them?
Usually you will find lupini beans in a jar or can pickled in a salty brine or in sealed bags either vacuum packed and ready-to-eat or dried. You can easily find lupini beans in any Italian specialty store or market, but they are also becoming more widely accessible in most big chain grocery stores.
If you buy them dried, they will look small, circular, flat and pale yellow. Make sure to follow the proper soaking method on the packaging or as indicated below in order to remove their alkaloid content and consequently their toxic bitterness, and get them to their plump and golden yellow perfection. Another variety called "sweet" lupini also exists which contains less alkaloids and requires less soaking.
How to soak them?
Soaking dried lupini beans is an important process as the alkaloids these beans contain are toxic. Therefore besides biting into them to taste how bitter they still are and how long to continue the soaking process, make sure not to swallow the bite until the soaking process is over.
Besides that and the fact that soaking may take 1 to 2 weeks, it is pretty easy to make fresh lupini from scratch. There are a few variations to this process online, but our family usually starts by boiling the dried lupini. Then we place the beans in a large bowl filled with cold water and let them soak making sure to change the soaking water 2-3 times a day. We continue to soak them while changing the water daily for 1 to 2 weeks or until the lupini are firm and no longer bitter!
How do you eat them?
Lupini beans have a slightly thicker outer skin than most legumes, yet it is just as edible. Most often people will simply pierce the skin with their teeth and then push the seed with their fingers directly into their mouth and discard the skin. Just a reminder that if you are using brined or canned lupini, thoroughly rinse them prior to eating given their high (and in some case very high) salt content.
*WARNING: Peanut allergy sufferers, please make sure you are not also allergic to lupini beans as they belong to the same plant family as peanuts. Read more here.