Britain should switch to eating bread made with broad beans, researchers have said, because it would be more sustainable and easily deliver key nutrients.
Using flour made from broad beans – also known as faba or fava beans – could represent one of the biggest changes to UK food in a generation, according to scientists at the University of Reading.
Prof Julie Lovegrove, who is leading the research, said she thought fava beans could appeal to UK consumers as “beans in toast”, while improving the nutritional quality of bread and reducing the environmental impact.
“We had to think laterally: what do most people eat and how can we improve their nutrition without them having to change their diets? The obvious answer is bread,” she said.
“Ninety-six per cent of people in the UK eat bread, and 90% of that is white bread, which in most cases contains soya. We’ve already performed some experiments and found that fava bean flour can directly replace imported soya flour and some of the wheat flour, which is low in nutrients. We can not only grow the fava beans here, but also produce and test the fava bean-rich bread, with improved nutritional quality.”
The project is backed by £2m of government funding and brings together the researchers, farmers and policymakers to encourage British consumers to eat more broad beans, which mostly go towards animal feed at present.
The researchers will also find ways to optimise the sustainability and nutritional quality of beans grown in the UK, including by breeding varieties that are high-yielding and working with farmers to encourage them to switch wheat-producing land to fava bean.
Fava beans are particularly high in protein, fibre and iron, nutrients that can be low in UK diets, but most people are reluctant to use them as they lack experience cooking and eating them.
The researchers will also supply the fava bean-based foods they produce to the university’s student halls of residence and campus catering outlets, where they will ask students to rate the products.
Matt Tebbit, who runs the university’s catering service and is involved in the research programme, said: “Students will be asked to rate products made or enriched with faba bean, such as bread, flatbread, and hummus.
“They will be asked questions about how full they felt, for how long and their liking of the foods. It is hoped that faba bean will improve satiety, as well as providing enhanced nutritional benefits in products that are enjoyable to eat.”
• This article was amended on 19 January 2023 to make clear that fava beans are also known as faba beans.