An annual crop, faba bean is utilised as both food and animal feed. It is traditionally consumed in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, but it can also grow in cold climates. According to FAOstat 2022, faba bean ranks seventh among grain legumes in terms of harvested area on a worldwide scale, and it reached a high record for average yield over several years. Different varieties are cultivated, varying primarily by seed size. The largest seeds are historically found in var. marjor (broad beans), whereas the smallest are in var. minor (tick beans). Var. equina (horse beans) has seeds of intermediate size. After harvesting the seeds, the plant can be used as green manure or ensiled for ruminant feed. In addition, faba bean has gained popularity as a promising crop for many agroecological reasons. The potential nutrient intake by faba bean, nodulation, soil nitrogen balance, better soil fertility and structure, and increased biological diversity are a few of these. Moreover, faba bean’s ability to fixate nitrogen in symbiosis with alpha-proteobacteria relieves the farmer from the need to apply a large quantity of nitrogen fertilizer.
Key facts about the crop
One of the first domesticated plants from the Fertile Crescent is the faba bean. The earliest evidence of its domestication dates to 10,200 B.P. and was discovered in lower Galilee, Israel. The crop expanded throughout North-Africa and Eurasia and was brought to the Americas and Australia by European colonists. With up to 35% protein content, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, mineral nutrients, a low saturated fat content, and a well-balanced amino acid profile, it has provided foods with high nutritional value for centuries. Faba bean seeds can be processed into flour, protein concentrate, protein isolate, and fiber- and starch-rich fractions. These ingredients can be used in various processes aimed at producing meat and dairy alternatives or at fortifying cereal-based and gluten-free products. Despite is potential, faba bean has been a challenging ingredient because of its off-flavors (bitterness, astringency, beany flavor) and antinutritional compounds (vicine, convicine, oligosaccharides). However, fermentation with lactic acid bacteria has been found to improve the sensory and nutritional quality of faba bean-based foods.
Why we are working on this crop in HealthFerm
Faba bean has great potential to be used in several food applications, such as plant-based yogurt alternatives. Currently, these products have very low fiber and protein contents. This issue can be addressed by employing faba bean as ingredients. Within HealthFerm, the potential of faba bean to be employed in the production of dairy alternatives is being studied, and the main technological challenges are being addressed. The molecular changes caused by fermentation to faba bean are being investigated, as well as their effect on in vivo and in vitro responses. Further research is being conducted on the molecular causes of faba bean’s bitter taste and on the bioprocessing strategies for flavour improvement.
Curiosity about the crop
- The Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese name Fabio/Fàbio and its derivative forms comes from the Latin Fabius, which means farmer of faba bean.
- Some of the most typical culinary preparations of faba beans include soups, thick gruels, and purees (also used as pasta sauce).
- Unlike other grain legumes, faba beans use both self- and cross-pollination.
- Faba bean can be a promising alternative to imported soybean.
- Recently, the application of faba bean protein concentrate in baby formula has been researched.