Information On Legume Flour

Between the interest in fiber and allergies such as celiac disease, it’s time to spill the beans about these specialty flours.

By Frances Katz, Senior Technical Editor

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Bush Brothers also has done much research to improve acceptability of baked beans. Company patents for reducing discomfort describe methods of heating for specific times and cooling to specific levels.

While there is a lot known about bean production in the U.S. and Canada, much less is understood about consumption patterns. Beans were widely consumed in the early parts of the 20th century, peaking during World War II at about 11 lbs. per person. Then they began to decline, but started to rebound between 1997-1999 years, recovering to about 7.7 lbs. per person.

Pinto beans, navy beans and kidney beans were the most popular beans during the last USDA consumption survey. According to USDA data, on any given day about 14 percent of Americans eat at least one dish containing cooked dry beans.

The assumption that an increase in Hispanic population drove an increase in bean consumption may be accurate. Even though not a specific type of bean, refried beans, which may be made from several different beans, are next in line of popularity.

Some specialty beans, such as black beans, which have become a favorite in the past few years, are generally eaten at standard (not fast-food) restaurants – however, they still account for just a half-pound per capita annually. Some 39 percent of cooked dry beans are consumed in the southern states, and an additional 38 percent consumed in the western states. Only 11 percent of the cooked dry beans were eaten in the northeastern states – so much for Boston being nicknamed "Beantown."

Various bean pastes have been used by a few companies as a fat replacer as the soluble fiber has great water-holding properties, according to one formulator.

Beans make healthy flour

While beans as a semi-vegetable are enjoying some new respect, their use as a hidden ingredient, particularly in flours, also seems to have great potential.

Bob’s Red Mill ( is a 25-year-old Milwaukie, Ore., company that has reached national distribution with a broad line of bean flours, as well as supplying commercial quantities of these ingredients. Bob’s bean flours aren’t organic, but the “stone-grinding” method promoted on packaging has a natural feel that consumers find attractive.

Bob’s Red Mill has reached national distribution with a broad line of bean flours, for both consumers and food processors, including one made from garbanzos.
Bob’s credits some of its success to concern over celiac disease. “The size of the gluten-free market caught us somewhat by surprise,” says Matthew Cox, marketing coordinator for Bob’s Red Mill. “We identified whole grains as a business we wanted to be in, and we produce and sell white, navy, garbanzo, black, and fava bean flour. The bean flours add body and flavor as well as protein and fiber to rice flour mixes, and we use them in our own gluten-free baking mixes.” These baking mixes include brownie mix, all-purpose baking mixes, pancake mixes and bread mixes.

Cox also acknowledged a boost from people with allergens other than celiac disease, as well as those interested in low-glycemic index foods.

Ontario is a major source of certain beans, and the province has developed a considerable amount of nutritional information. The Ontario White Bean Producers claim that white pea beans (navy) are the richest source of vegetable protein, claiming 17 g of protein per cup of cooked beans, a gram of lipid with no cholesterol, and 13 g of dietary fiber. They are also a rich source of folate, iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. A number of Canadian companies report that they are working with bean flours, and some have been supplying U.S. companies as well.

Heartland Ingredients LLC (, Ubly, Mich., has produced a line of bean flours partly based on research by Michigan State University. The research sponsored by GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Environmental and Economic Needs) developed a method to reduce those small oligosaccharides that fail to be metabolized in the upper intestine, leading to digestive disturbances.

Kirk Dolan of Michigan State worked on this phase of development, which included work with enzymes (similar those used in products like Beano, the enzyme treatment for those who suffer abdominal distress when they eat beans or related foods). The enzymes break down the small oligosaccharides into metabolizable sugars. Dolan also developed techniques of soaking and germinating the beans to remove the small sugars (and therefore reducing carbohydrates) altogether.

“A selected combination of soaking, germinating, and enzyme treatment allows oligosaccharides (such as stachyose and raffinose) to be reduced by 35 to 60 percent, depending on the concentration of oligosaccharide that was present in the bean originally,” says Dolan.

Heartland Ingredients is a joint venture of the Michigan Edible Bean Co-op and the Minnesota farmer alliance FarmConnect. The business was built as an outlet for bean-based products and is designed to meet the needs of those who require a gluten-free diet. The organization is just over a year old, and its first products are now beginning to reach the marketplace. Heartland offers six types of gluten-free pasta, navy bean flour and pinto bean flour.

Jim LeCureux, general manager of Heartland, claims the market segment is growing at a rate of about 18-20 percent per year – growing in part by the improving ability to diagnose celiac disease. The emphasis on whole grains and low glycemic index has helped expand the category as well.

“The pasta products are well accepted,” he says. “Most celiac patients welcome them, and say they taste what they remember pasta tasting like before they embarked on a gluten-free diet.”

Along with the development of ingredients aimed at special users has been the wider interest in organic foods. Beans are a natural for this segment.

Purcell Mountain Farms (, Moyie Springs, Idaho, is an organic producer using the Unifine Milling Process, which reduces beans to a fine powder in air and prevents heat build-up. Purcell’s garbanzo bean flour (also called chana dal or gram flour) retains the natural oils, producing 10 calories of fat per ¼ cup serving (32 g).

Purcell Mountain will grind any beans to order. “We’ll make any kind of bean flour that is required,” says Sabina Dahlman, co-owner of the business. “We use the cool process mill to avoid getting the flour hot, so the oils stay in place and taste good.” About the garbanzo bean flour, she adds, “Chefs particularly like the product. It tastes good, and is easy to use.”


Using bean flour in foods isn’t quite as simple as a pound-for-pound replacement. For one thing, bean flour may be made by different processes that change water absorption and cooking time. If the flour is produced by stone grinding, the heat generated may reduce the water absorption and may affect the stability of oils in the flour, requiring addition of antioxidants.

If the flour is made by precooking the beans into a paste and grinding the paste, the cooking time of the final food may be shorter. And a number of producers are working with extruders, so that products may be partially pre-cooked.

Depending on the way they are processed, bean flours will behave differently in complex systems, as will flours made from different beans. Your manufacturer can tell you, generally, how the selected product is likely to work in mixed systems.

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