Forget the classic beans on toast – it’s the grain in toast (and other bread products) that has the potential to revolutionize the British diet. That’s the claim of researchers at the University of Reading, who are looking to replace the imported soybeans currently used as an ingredient in baking with British grown (or broad) beans. They said the switch has the potential to be healthier and better for the environment. The three-year project – called ‘Raising the Pulse’ – will bring together scientists, farmers, members of industry, policy makers and the public to make ‘one of the biggest changes to food in the UK in generations’.
Pulses – beans in particular – experience favorable growing conditions in the UK, provide a ‘sustainable nutritional boost’ and are great alternatives to soybeans.
However, the majority of beans grown in Britain are used for animal feed.
Researchers note that beans are high in easily digestible protein, fiber and iron – nutrients that can be low in traditional UK diets.
However, the majority of people are not accustomed to cooking and eating beans, which poses a challenge in maximizing its absorption.
Project leader and nutrition researcher Professor Julie Lovegrove said: “We had to think laterally – what do most people eat and how can we improve their nutrition without having to change their diet?”
The obvious answer is bread. 96 percent of people in the UK eat bread, and 90 percent of it is white bread, which in most cases contains soy.
We have already done some experiments and found that bean flour can replace imported soy flour and some wheat flour, which are low in nutrients.
“Not only can we grow beans here, but we can also produce and test bread enriched with bean grains, with improved nutritional quality.”
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Before new products can be tested, the grain must be grown, harvested, and milled—all processes that researchers are looking to improve.
According to the researchers, they will be looking to select or breed cultivars that are nutritious and high yielding; working with soil to improve yields using nitrogen-fixing bacteria; and mitigate the environmental impacts of bean cultivation.
The team hopes they can encourage farmers to convert some of their wheat-producing lands to growing beans for human consumption.
The full results of the study have been published in Nutrition Bulletin.