A Religious Dedication to Lupini Beans

Danielle Oteri

by Danielle Oteri on May 9, 2011

Whenever Dad went grocery shopping with Mom, the bill would inevitably be higher as he’d always sneak three extra things into the cart: batteries, WD-40, and lupini beans. My brother and I loved these little yellow beans that were the same color as our Dodge Omni. (This was the early ’80s, when it wasn’t considered child abuse for a kid to ride in a compact car without his own entertainment system.)

lupini beans italian
Dad would rinse the briny beans in a bowl of water and my brother and I would expertly nibble the tip of the shell, then squeeze and and pop the salty beans in our mouth with increasing speed, unable to be full or satisfied. Dad would start to laugh as he’d recall his own father’s explanation about the addictive nature of lupini beans. It was a convoluted story that my grandfather told with great seriousness about Jesus—yes, Christ—running way from the Romans.

Jesus came upon a field of lupini beans and tried to hide. (At this point in the re-telling we were already cringing.) But the lupini bushes started making noise and drew attention to Jesus, who had to continue running and find a new place to hide. And for that reason, Jesus cursed the lupini bushes so that whoever eats them will never be able to satisfy their hunger. By the end of the story, we’d all be hysterically laughing at this ridiculous, even blasphemous tale, in total wonder as to where Grandpa had come up with it.

But in researching lupini beans for this post, my grandfather’s story has been vindicated! It’s a Southern Italian folkloric tale from the turn of the century, when people would comfort themselves with apocryphal tales of Mary, Jesus, and the saints as a way to contemplate and ease their own hunger and suffering. For poor children who had only lupini beans to eat, which would never suffer their hunger, their parents would tell a similar tale in which the Virgin Mary was escaping King Herod’s attack on baby boys and running through a field of lupini beans. Again, the lupini beans made noise and were cursed by God.

Most folks have probably never heard of them, but lupini beans can be easily found in most grocery stores, usually in the same aisle as the olives, canned artichokes, and jarred peppers. In Italy, they are sold at street fairs and festivals in long, plastic bags. In Spain, they are a common bar food.

Considering lupini beans have nearly as much protein as soybeans, they’re a damn good snack, especially since they are nearly as addictive as potato chips. They are also fun to eat. I’m partial to the nibble and pop technique, but experts claim to be able to rub the skin off with a couple of quick rubs between their fingertips.

A jar will only set you back two or three dollars, but I was curious to brine my own batch, especially because the jarred beans tend to be tiny, and I missed the big meaty lupinis I enjoyed in Italy.

Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue had them already brined, but another stall in the wonderful Arthur Avenue Retail Market had a bag of dried lupinis. Though the process isn’t difficult, it takes a full two weeks. Yes, those suckers will be occupying valuable real estate in my fridge for some time, requiring a daily rinse.

But I’m sure they will be worth it—especially when I can sit outside on a hot, sunny day with a bottle of beer or glass of wine, popping lupini beans like I’m at the feast of Saint Cono.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth Pennebaker May 16, 2011 at 11:16 am

I’m convinced. I’m going to hunt down this bean that I never heard of before today.

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Jane Boursaw May 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I do love beans, which, uh, kinda drives my family nuts, in more ways than one. But I’ve never heard of Lupini beans, so thanks for the intel! My family will be so happy we have a new bean to try out.

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Orlando January 12, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I grew up eating these tasty morsels whenever my mom would make them, usually around Easter, along with the Easter Pizza she made from scratch. Other than the wonderful flavor and fun I had eating them, I will always remember the time it took to produce the finished bean…but it was well worth the effort. My mom’s recipe was just a basic one with no added herbs or spice – just salt and water and full of love!

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Linda Gasbarro May 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I, too enjoyed Lupini beans as a child (and still love them to this day). They were always great fun to eat – we ate them like you with the little nibble and the pop in the mouth. My grandparents came to this country at the turn of the century from the Abruzzo region of Italy. I never heard any tales about Jesus and the lupini bushes. I was just happy to eat those little golden nuggets. We always affectionately called them Lu Beans!! Thanks for sharing the story and the recipe.

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Constantinos May 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I did not like lupini beans in Greek islands (ca1953), contrary to the lupini beans recently found in Athens central food market. After overnight soaking, I boiled the latter for 15, 60, 30 minutes successively, observing that water got less and less yellow every time. Even after first boiling, beans did not look bitter to me. Just for safety, I applied the rinse / water procedure for three days and the beans were quite tasty in salty water.
I wonder whether there are today varieties of cultivated lupini beans having so little alkaloids that there is no need of placing them in cold water for several days. Does lack of bitterness safely indicate that the bean has become edible?
Of course placing beans in cold water for several days ought to be always realised for safety, if above matter is not clarified. Their alkaloids seem to be toxic, if still contained in the beans we eat.

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Amparito Jones July 29, 2013 at 10:05 am

I grew up eating these beans in Quito-Ecuador, I love them so much! in Ecuador (they’re called CHOCHOS) and we eat them with toasted corn (TOSTADOS) but in the US, I could only find them in specialty Latin markets and it was hit or miss when I could find them. I have lived in several countries for the past 19th years and haven’t been able to find them anywhere. Now I’m living in Madrid, Spain and one can find them everywhere!! in jars, ready to eat…no cooking necessary!
OMG! I’m in heaven now, I eat them all the time…making up for all those lost years. I’m having some right now, bon appetite!

Amparito

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Julieanna October 28, 2013 at 5:47 pm

I’m 100% Portuguese, Father and Both Grandparents born in Madera, Mom is first generation born in California. I grew up eating Tremocos ( Lupini beans) all my life but I do make them a little different. I only boil them for 20 minutes, let them cool, replace the water with fresh and continue to rinse them and replace them with fresh water twice a day for 7 to 10 day. I then try one bean to see if it still taste bitter and if they do I will continue to soak and rinse for a couple more days. After they are no longer bitter I then add the salt. If they are not salty enough just add more salt, if they are too salty just replace some of the water with fresh water and the saltiness is pulled out! good luck and enjoy!

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Carmel Michel January 2, 2014 at 4:50 am

Both my mother and father were born in Italy, and my mother had lupine beans pre soaked for every Holiday . I think I was the person in the family that liked them the most. I remember eating them with skins as well. I’m going to 84 heard old now, and imm still soaking them for Holidays and enjoying as a snack. Italian speciality stores have in there dried form or in the jars with brine. Try them they grow on you.

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Leland Smallwood April 5, 2014 at 3:08 pm

I am over 80 years old. I have been eating Lupini beans for almost that long.I have trouble find them. Not all Italian Stores carry them. My children love them also. When ever I visit, I bring them lupini beans. I have searched the internet for a source to purchase them whole sale. I boil them for one hour, then brine for 7 days

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wafa Charife May 3, 2014 at 11:15 pm

I came from Lebanon , I know the lupine beans very well . It is a street sold food .My mother used to prepare some for us during summer time specially, I prepare them now and then for my family, they love them.I always buy them dry at ( gourmet bazar ) store , Charles-de la tour Road , Montreal ( Clic brand ) . Usually, I find the small size which is very bitter, but this time I found the large ones , theytook less time to get rid of the bitter taste. Having prepared them for many years, I can tell when they ready just by the color of the water which is yellow the first day then start to clear as as you refresh it . I hope my information will help you.

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C.Bhagwan July 1, 2014 at 10:41 am

Please can you tell me if a personae has been diagnosed with Parkinons ,if it is safe to take the bean. I am a vegetrain.

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