Lupini beans, also called lupine beans, are an edible legume from the genus Lupinus. Choosing the best lupini bean for eating depends on your personal flavor preference, and there are several options from which to decide. Due to the elevated levels of alkaloid in the beans, new cultivars, sometimes called sweet lupins or lupines, have been created with lower alkaloid levels. The beans can also be prepared on your own, but the process is involved and takes place over the course of a week's time. Lupini beans are more widely known in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking, and are commonly prepared during Italian holidays and fairs.
When choosing the best lupini beans for eating, there are a couple choices available. The dried types need properly prepared, which can take days, or they are inedible. For a quick snack, jarred varieties are a better choice. The prepared jarred versions are generally sold in a brine mixture and eaten as a snack straight from the container. These versions can be saltier than making the beans from scratch, a reason that many people prefer to choose dried over prepared.
Traditional lupini beans have high levels of alkaloids that can be toxic. Alkaloids are compounds which can be actively poisonous if consumed. The bitter-tasting compound is not as prevalent in newer produced selections. German cultivars called sweet lupines or sweet lupini beans were created during the 1920s. These strains have very little alkaloids; however, they still require special attention prior to eating.
Preparing lupini beans requires a soaking process to remove the bitter alkaloids. Some cooks use a brine solution of water and salt for soaking; however, they can also be soaked simply in water. The legumes are covered with cold water and allowed to soak for 12 to 24 hours, after which the water is drained away and fresh water added. They are cooked for one to two hours or until tender, and the soaking process then begins again. For the next five to seven days, the old water is drained away and new water added daily until the water or brine is clear and free of the potentially-toxic alkaloids.
Cooking lupini beans is completed through the soaking process. The cooking process is done after the first soaking which makes them tender. The beans are kept in the refrigerator during the soaking process which helps to preserve them for future use. When they are ready to eat, the skins can be removed or left intact. They are commonly eaten as a snack or drizzled with a favorite topping such as olive oil or lemon juice for a flavorful side dish.
Cultivation of lupini beans date back some 2,000 years when they were a food source for early pre-Incan civilizations, early Egyptians, and the Romans. Widely popular throughout the Mediterranean region, the popularity of white lupines, L. albus, later spread throughout Europe. With immigration west, this fiber-rich legume has become a worldwide culinary treasure. As of the 21st century, lupine plants have been successfully grown and cultivated in the United States and other non-native regions.
In North America, these beans are commonly known as lupines or lupinis, while, in Europe and the Mediterranean, the beans are referred to as lupins. The different varieties will display a range of colorful blooms from white to blue. One such variety, L. angustifolius, is called the blue lupin in Europe; however, it was bred during the 1980s in Australia to produce white flowers. Due to its bloom color, this Australian variety is sometimes called white lupin, confusing it with the Mediterranean and European species L. albus.