Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lupine, A Novel Food That's Already Causing Problems

Mark G, a correspondent from Australia, drew my attention to this stuff:

Low-Carb Bread
Low carb, high protein bread! What could go wrong with that?

Well, if you zoom in on the ingredients, the first three are wheat protein, soy protein, and lupine protein.

Lupine protein? Lupine, the flower? Apparently:
"Lupine cultivation is at least 2,000 years old and most likely began in Egypt or in the general Mediterranean region. The lupine plant, like other grain legumes (beans, peas, lentils, etc.) fixes atmospheric nitrogen, and produces seed high in protein. There are over 300 species of the genus Lupinus (L.), but many have high levels of alkaloids (bitter tasting compounds) that make the seed unpalatable and sometimes toxic. Historically, lupine alkaloids have been removed from the seed by soaking. But plant breeders in the 1920's in Germany produced the first selections of alkaloid-free or "sweet" lupine, which can be directly consumed by humans or livestock. White lupine (L. albus L.), yellow lupine (L. luteus), and blue or narrow-leafed lupine (L. angustifolius) are cultivated as crops. Lupines are currently grown as a forage and grain legume in USSR, Poland, Germany, the Mediterranean, and as a cash crop in Australia, where it is exported to the European seed markets. Both winter-hardy and non-hardy types are available."

And since humans make such excellent guinea pigs for these sorts of things:
"The United States has a developing specialty human food market for lupine in the form of lupine flour, lupine pasta, and hulls for dietary fiber. Sweet lupines have been shown to increase the protein and fiber crops in conjunction with durum wheat in specialty pastures, and to be an excellent source of white-colored fiber, as an additive to breads and cereals."
("White-colored fiber" is most likely an euphemism for cellulose, the modern marketing name for sawdust. But that's a whole 'nother post.)

So what's wrong with using lupine protein in food? The most obvious problem is that many people with peanut allergies, one of the most common allergies, cross-react to lupine. Since lupine's novel, the regulators haven't caught up to this, and you could wind up with a nasty surprise:
"Lupine or lupin is a legume that may cause an allergic reaction in those with peanut allergy. Lupine is used in this country in many gluten-free and high-protein products. In many European countries, particularly Italy and France, lupine flour and/or peanut flour may be mixed with wheat flour in baked goods."
Also here:
"Amino acid sequence homology also suggests that these proteins could be responsible, at least in part, for some of the allergic cross-reactions between peanut and lupine reported in the literature."
And here:
"Lupine flour is allergenic and potentially cross-reactive with peanut allergen, thus posing some risk if used as a replacement for soy flour."
And of course:
"Conclusions:  A small but significant number of children with peanut allergy are allergic to lupin."
But you won't learn that from reading the allergen warnings, if you live in Europe:
"Tough new laws on food allergens that enter into force in Europe in November will require food manufacturers to list 12 potentially allergic ingredients, and their derivatives. Lupin flour is not included in the listing."
Of course that's after they allowed lupin flower to enter the food supply. But that's not all:
"Poisoning varies depending on lupine species and varieties, and it is difficult to pin point to specific plant or animal since different animals become susceptible in different ways under varying range conditions.

Species and taxonomic differentiations between species are insufficiently characterized. Different lupines produce varying syndromes in a a given species of livestock....

More than a dozen quinolizidine alkaloids, but some piperidine alkaloids and other types of alkaloids have also been isolated from species of Lupinus. These alkaloids are largely nicotinic in effect. The nitrogen oxides of some of these bases have also been detected in some lupines. The alkaloids are present in the foliage but the greatest concentration is in the seeds.

[P.S. I forgot to mention that this food has nearly the perfect profile for a novel, yet toxic, food to be introduced. It's enough to make you a Paleo paranoid. In it's new and improved form, it's not overtly toxic, but if it were to present symptoms of toxicity, they'd be diverse, and nearly impossible to tie back to the original source. Sort of like modern wheat. In the meanwhile the producers would be able to make a boatload of cash on it, until the truth finally starts to leak out.]

I'd guess that they're reduced the levels of alkaloids in the "sweet lupine" down to some tolerable level, and not completely eliminated them. So, like soy, wheat, or bok choy, if you start eating large amounts of lupin, you may find that you've exceeded the toxic amount.

Interestingly, I found that one of the major proponents (and producers) of lupine, George Weston Foods, applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for a "generally recognized as safe" designation for "sweet lupin" flour, fiber, and protein. They then withdrew the request:
"The subject of the notice is sweet lupin flour. The notice informs FDA of the view of George Weston Foods, Ltd. that sweet lupin flour is GRAS, through scientific procedures, for use as an ingredient in baked goods and baking mixes and grain products and pastas at a maximum level of 25 per cent.

"In a letter dated December 10, 2008, you withdrew your notice. Given your letter, we ceased to evaluate your GRAS notice, effective December 16, 2008, the date that we received your letter."
That's odd. I wonder what George Weston Foods knows about lupin that caused them to withdraw the request?

Nevertheless, if you're dying to give Lupin flour a try in the U.S., you can buy some here. What are the advantages they cite?
Type: Peanut Free, All Natural, Gluten Free, Kosher, Raw, Sugar Free, Vegan, Wheat Free, Dairy Free.
Technically, that's true, of course. But the only reason you'd be interested in the fact that a food was peanut-free is if you were allergic to peanuts...

Calling all attorneys.

Caveat emptor, as always. Look out for yourself, because you can't trust the food producers or the regulators to look out for you.