Meat substitutes based on lupini are delicious, sustainable and healthy. This makes the beans of the lupin plant an ideal raw material for making our food more sustainable, according to Rob van Haren, director of the Kiemkracht innovation alliance and Professor of Product Innovation and Knowledge Transfer in Agribusiness at the University of Groningen.
Lupin is an indigenous plant that is easy to grow, with no need for excessive quantities of artificial fertilizer and chemicals. Van Haren: ‘A great advantage of lupin is that the plant makes its own nutrients by converting nitrogen from the atmosphere. This means that less artificial fertilizer is needed, thereby reducing the CO2 emissions associated with the production of these fertilizers. On top of that, if we eat less meat and instead consume more lupin proteins directly, this also avoids the CO2 emissions from cattle breeding. This is doubly effective and therefore very sustainable.’
Growing numbers of scientists believe that our eating habits simply have to change. ‘Recently the seven billionth inhabitant of our planet was born. In fifteen years’ time there will be eight billion people, and then nine billion forty years from now. All these people need to be fed. If this is done using animal protein, a great deal of energy is lost,’ says Van Haren. ‘And there’s also the question of whether the earth can sustain that level of meat production since animals also need protein-rich food to be able to grow.’
The most obvious solution is to remove an important link in the food chain. Van Haren: ‘By giving vegetable protein to people directly, we can feed ten times as many people. This means that in 2050 the entire world population would have enough to eat, provided we distribute the vegetable protein properly.’
People love meat, so the switch to vegetable protein will be no easy matter. ‘That will take generations,’ concedes Van Haren. ‘That’s why this change is one of the priority areas of Kiemkracht, an independent alliance in the field of pioneering innovations in agriculture. We are deliberately focusing on two target groups – “cultural creatives” and the mothers of the future.’ The first group is made up of well-educated people with a broad interest in culture and in green ideals. Van Haren calls them ‘trendsetters.’ The second group is equally important. ‘Eating habits are traditionally passed on by mothers. What’s more, young women are very conscious about what they eat. And vegetable protein fits very well into a tasty, healthy and well-considered diet.’
Van Haren has been closely involved in setting up the Vegetarian Butcher and in developing different lupin products. In collaboration with Marco Westmaas, a culinary innovator and leading chef at the Elzenduin restaurant, he has created a range of lupin products with a fibrous structure resembling that of meat. Van Haren: ‘You can also drink vegetable protein in the form of lupin milk or eat it in the form of a candy bar.’
Although lupini come in various forms, the emphasis at present is on meat substitutes. ‘Because if we all stop eating meat one day a week, we’ll be well on track to meeting the targets of the Kyoto protocol,’ says Van Haren. ‘In the Netherlands, ‘Meatless Monday’ would yield a saving of more than 700,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents. That is equal to 2.3% of the CO2 emissions of Dutch vehicles.’
This month the University of Groningen was awarded a European research grant for the LUPICARP project involving a clinical study of the effects of lupin protein on blood cholesterol levels. ‘The assumption is that thirty grammes of lupin protein per day could lower blood cholesterol levels after just one month. If that is correct, that’s a major discovery,’ says Van Haren.
Experiments are also underway with other possible applications of lupini beans. ‘It has yet to be proved, but lupini also seem to have a prebiotic effect thanks to the presence of soluble dietary fibres, thereby contributing to the health of our intestines,’ says Van Haren. ‘Lupini would therefore be a perfect ingredient in the diet of elderly people in need of care. Kiemkracht has also commissioned biologists in Germany to work on processing a new kind of Andean lupin, which also contains oil,’ explains Van Haren. ‘In other words, we’re hard at work developing the bean of the future.’
Professor Rob Van Haren (Nijmegen, 1961) studied biology at Wageningen Agricultural University and gained his PhD in 1995 at the VU University Amsterdam with a dissertation entitled ‘Application of Dynamic Energy Budgets to xenobiotic kinetics in Mytilus edulis and population dynamics of Globodera pallida.’ Van Haren currently holds a part-time position as Professor of Product Innovation and Knowledge Transfer in Agribusiness at the Faculty of Economics and Business. He is also director of Kiemkracht, an alliance between the Innovation Network of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and the Product Board in Arable Products. In this capacity, Van Haren is responsible for drawing up the innovation agenda 2030 for agriculture in the Netherlands and for implementing pioneering innovations.
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