The development of low vicine and convicine varieties of fababeans presents an opportunity for prairie growers and processors.
While the agronomic benefits of including fababeans in a rotation are well known, worldwide production has largely been at a standstill for the last 40 years.
The crop fixes nitrogen more than other crops, improves soil structure and is resistant to diseases that commonly affect other pulses.
However, vicine and convicine (V-C) are toxic to a small percentage of humans who have a certain enzyme deficiency. This deficiency is most common in the Mediterranean region, where people are screened for it.
“This is really not something we should be worried about from a North American perspective,” said Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre ingredient scientist Ricky Lam.
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- Research aims to bolster nitrogen fixation for fababeans
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He and Shannon Hood-Niefer, the food centre’s vice-president of innovation and technology, undertook a study in conjunction Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and POS BioSciences.
Initially the project was designed to screen varieties to determine which would work best for removing the seed coat. Unlike peas, fababean seed coats don’t separate easily from the cotyledon.
“Fababeans have challenges just in terms of size and shape,” said Hood-Niefer.
“There’s more variability, but there’s a lot of opportunity there too because the fababean is more bland than a pea.”
It also offers higher protein levels for food products.
However, the researchers had to sort out the genetic issues of V-C and high tannin levels.
“The breeders at the Crop Development Centre have been working on a low tannin and a low vicine convicine fababean and we’re super close,” she said.
“Part of the reason we started the project was because the breeding was so close.”
The project began with 10 varieties and was narrowed down to two.
“We ran two varieties of fababeans through an air classification system, so we would make a protein concentrate and a starch concentrate,” Hood-Niefer said.
“Then we took one variety and we did fractionation.”
That variety is Snowdrop, a low tannin variety chosen because there were enough tonnes available to work with, and it produced a protein isolate and a starch isolate.
Researchers analyzed the fractions and how they functioned and used them in food.
“It totally worked,” she said.
Working with a toxicologist from the University of Calgary, they found that the different isolation techniques and actually putting the compounds into food lowered the V-C content in the finished products.
Lam said work in Saskatchewan and Italy to develop low V-C varieties means that seed growers are starting to gain access to them.
“That means that farmers will get access to them, which means that the ingredient manufacturers will get access pretty soon, too,” he said.
“We’re at a transition point.”
The researchers used fababeans in cookies, muffins, pancakes, crisps and puffed products.
“We’ve extruded it. We’ve put it into fake meats. We’ve put it into puffed snacks, all sorts of goodies,” said Hood-Niefer.
Manufacturers are already using fababean ingredients in Europe and North America. Lam said a concerted effort is underway across agriculture to develop the fababean industry.
“You’ve got equipment manufacturers that are develop equipment that can handle more irregular shaped seeds, to how it’s grown and the different breeds that are being developed at the CDC here in Saskatoon, and all the way to how to process them into ingredients and develop them into food products,” said Lam.
“The idea is to attack it from multiple angles and find solutions on a broad spectrum for fababeans.”
He said research might eventually lead to lines with absolutely no V-C content. There is a naturally occurring line with about 99 percent less V-C, but because bees pollinate the crop, it’s hard to maintain pure seed.
The research project ended earlier this year, but Hood-Niefer said the results generated a lot of commercial interest from ingredient and food manufacturers.
The food centre is working on other interesting ingredients including crickets, mealworms, sacha inchi and canaryseed.