This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 3, 2014.
Brightly colored lupin flowers may have been growing in your garden for years, but now products made from the plant’s beans are showing up in the gluten-free aisle of the grocery store. And as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning, the foods can be dangerous for some people.
In response to the gluten-free craze, more U.S. food makers have introduced lupin as a substitute for wheat in flour. Lupin is a legume from the same plant family as peanuts, so many people with peanut allergies also have allergic reactions to lupin. It can also be an issue for those with soybean allergies.
The problem, according to the FDA, is that many Americans have never heard of lupin and don’t know to look for it on food labels. Lupin-based pastas, breads and baked goods have just begun to appear in the U.S. market, although they’ve been on shelves in Europe and Australia for at least two decades.
FDA experts say consumers should look for “lupin” or “lupine” on food label ingredient lists. Canned or jarred lupini beans are sometimes found in Italian sections of the grocery store and the dried version might appear in pub cracker mixes.
The good news is that lupin is safe for the majority of people and healthy, too. It’s low in fat and a good source of both protein and fiber.