The fava, or broad bean, has huge potential as a more sustainable alternative to meat and dairy proteins, but is currently underused. Dr Tom Wood, NIAB, explains how a multidisciplinary research project is unlocking its potential as a high-quality source of UK-grown plant-based protein.

Loved by many for the few brief weeks in the summer in its fresh broad-bean form, the fava bean is reviled as a dried pulse and deemed suitable only for feeding livestock. But it has great potential as an alternative to dairy and meat proteins, a sector which is experiencing exponential growth globally.

A large number of vegetarian and vegan products are currently reliant on imported South American soya. However, issues with the genetically modified status of soya, and implications as a potential allergen, mean there is a demand to identify alternative sources of plant-based protein.

 

The fava bean has the potential to replace some of the soya market. Unfortunately, despite being consumed as a foodstuff outside of Europe, a stable supply of raw fava bean is still difficult for processors and industry to access. This leads to volatile pricing and is preventing a wider uptake and exploitation of the crop, compared to more stable commodities such as soya, peas and wheat.

Promoting sustainable Fava bean production

Through funding from EIT Food, NIAB has been working with partners from academia and industry to
trial innovative high-quality varieties of fava bean. The aim is to address problems in the supply chain and deliver improved ingredients for food processors.

The project is aiming to demonstrate that fava beans are an excellent source of domestically produced plant-based protein. Across the partnership, they are looking at;

  • Identifying suitable fava bean varieties
  • Effective processing methods
  • Novel prototype products
  • Network and supply chain analysis

At the end of the project, the aim is to create a pipeline for tasty, nutritious protein extracts suitable for manufacturing into new alternative solutions to dairy proteins.

Project results

In year one, the trials focused on quality testing a selection of diverse varieties and looked at different levels of protein content. The top performing varieties were taken forward for further testing to understand how to get the best from the plant for cultivation and processing.

The project identified how to extract proteins effectively and has generated a series of high-quality
food grade extracts that have been successfully trialled in drink products. These are showing great promise as alternatives to current dairy and plant-based alternatives including soya and pea, with better functionality for processing and improved flavour and taste in the product.

They have also trialled how to scale-up production and are assessing different production environments to understand how they may impact the protein quality.

Addressing challenges in production and the supply chain

Understanding where the constraints are that affects the supply chain of fava beans for food production was a major part of the project’s challenge.

The work, undertaken by the Institute of Manufacturing, has raised awareness of bottlenecks in the production pipeline with producers and industry, such as yield instability, crop seasonality, or quality issues caused by insect pests. This helps to identify solutions to minimise the various negative impacts and reduce volatility in the supply and also the cost of the raw materials.

Information on how to grow food-grade fava bean and maintain sustainable farming practices has been used to create a learning platform to help growers and producers obtain knowledge to improve productivity and reduce instability in the supply chain.

Tom Wood is a Plant Pathologist at NIAB, based in Cambridge, part of the Growing Kent & Medway Alternative Protein Network. [email protected]

EIT Food project: Favuleux: Developing Fava bean as a sustainable source of high-quality protein for food, through optimized genetics, farming & processing.

Project partners:

  • Roquette Frères
  • Nestlé
  • NIAB
  • Institute for Manufacturing
  • Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Cambridge