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‘Millennial bean’ could give UK a new home-grown plant protein

A new bean variety which could become the UK’s next commercial plant-protein crop has been harvested from a large scale field trial with a combine harvester for the first time this week.

The new white haricot bean variety has been bred by researchers at the University of Warwick’s Crop Centre in Wellesbourne, and was registered for National Listing in 2018 as ‘Capulet.’

Prof Eric Holub holding beans on harvest dayProfessor Eric Holub, a plant genetics expert from Warwick’s School of Life Sciences has been leading the project.

He said: “Currently, British farmers are not large-scale producers of haricot beans because commercial varieties developed in other countries are poorly suited to our climate and light conditions.

“However, our eating habits are shifting in Britain towards a more plant-based or flexitarian diet. This is good news for improving our personal health as a nation and, according to a panel of global scientists who wrote the EAT-Lancet report [released in January 2019], a shift to eating less meat is also good for the health of our planet.

“British consumers will have an opportunity to help improve our food system if commercial varieties of haricot beans can be developed successfully for British farmers.”

Professor Holub re-launched the work from previous MAFF-funded research conducted at the Crop Centre (then the National Vegetable Research Station) in the 1970s and 80s. He began by evaluating progeny from the previous bean breeding work and selected a new distinctive and stable variety of small white haricot bean, which is now registered as Capulet.

Haricot bean is a diverse and versatile crop, so cross-breeding work continues to generate potential new varieties in a range of colours and sizes.

As the next step is commercial testing, Capulet has been trialled with an agronomy partner this year in several farm sites across England.

Consumer interest and participation in the research is essential alongside the crop work.

Professor Holub said: “We are a nation known for its love of beans, but, in the form of a processed food – baked beans. But for the big brands, the raw ingredients are imported, and they’re not baked – they’re pressure cooked in a tin.

white haricot beans grown at Wellesbourne“Capulet may find its way into tins, however, our approach to selecting new haricot bean varieties for consumers is to improve convenience for cooking at home from a raw ingredient. Capulet and all of its sibling varieties will be fast-cooking from a dry bean. This is important to introduce British-grown beans as a versatile ingredient to be used along with UK-grown vegetables, cereals and animal-based products like cheese and sausages (if you’re an omnivore).

“Positive consumer feedback at this stage will tell us we are doing something right. If there is demand and a market for a product, then British farmers will grow it.”

The new bean comes in the year that Warwick’s Crop Centre at its Wellesbourne campus celebrates 70 years of crop research on the site.

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19 September 2019

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Andrea Cullis

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University of Warwick

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