Gluten-free prospects: Finnish project highlights faba bean potential

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

One Finnish producer is already using the high-protein beans as a basis for meat alternatives
One Finnish producer is already using the high-protein beans as a basis for meat alternatives
Finland’s VTT research centre has developed processing technologies and recipes for the faba bean – up to now little-used in human food – which deliver high-protein, gluten-free alternative breads, pasta, snacks and other products.

In the past, VTT has focused its attention on other pulses, including chickpeas and peas, but for the past two years has concentrated on solutions for faba beans, also known as broad beans or fava beans. The beans, mostly used for animal feed today, contain between 25% and 35% protein, as well as vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and bioactive compounds.

Although some faba bean flours are commercially available, they are not processed to bring out their key benefits, said senior scientist Nesli Sozer. VTT, on the other hand, has applied both mechanical air fractionation and microbial fermentation to the flour.

“We are able to fractionate the faba flour into protein-rich fractions, with a fine particle size, and a starch-rich fraction, with a coarser particle size,”​ she said. “Fermentation then improves the technical and nutritional functionality, and in turn the sensory properties.”

Sozer explained: “The beans have some anti-nutritional factors, such as tannins, trypsin inhibitors, vicine, convicine and phytic acid. VTT’s hybrid processing technologies, combining mechanical separation with bioprocessing, have resulted in a significant reduction.”

Importantly, VTT added, these processes do not require the use of organic solvents, and are cost-effective.

Meanwhile, the protein content of up to 35% is twice that of wheat (10-14%), higher than chickpeas (19%) or lentils (26%), and at the top end of the scale similar to soy (36%).

Currently, the raw material cost of faba beans is around half that of soy or peas, according to VTT.

It claimed that the sensory characteristics, structure and colour of bread made with 70% faba bean flour were better than those of bread made by combining maize, rice and soy flours, for instance.

“We didn’t compare the flavour of 70% faba bean bread with wheat-based bread​,” said Sozer. “But we’ve compared it with soy bread, which would provide the same amount of protein. Soy bread has lower volume, and a gooey, rubbery crumb texture.”

She added: “The flour can be used to make a 100% faba bean pasta. It could also be applied to other cereal product categories such as extruded or baked snacks, as well as meat analogues or tofu-like products.”

According to VTT, there is already one producer on the Finnish market using faba beans as a basis for meat replacers.

“The beans are a promising source of protein which can be applied to various products, so we expect to see commercial applications on the market in the near future,”​ said Sozer.

Most European faba beans are grown in the UK, Germany, Italy and France.

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