The Mighty Mung Bean: A Nutritious and Sustainable Ingredient

The world’s population is expected to hit nearly 10 billion people by 2050, and the food industry’s current model for feeding the world—destroying natural resources at a rate far faster than they can be replaced and emitting greenhouse gasses—simply won’t work for much longer. Climate change accelerates many of our environmental and social problems.

The current food system also isn’t effectively addressing global hunger, nutrient deficiency, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease; in fact, it’s the cause of many of these problems. It’s a vicious cycle the food industry can and needs to break.

According to an online survey by Accenture Strategy, over 60% of global consumers gravitate towards businesses that are committed to improving the environment, and a Unilever study revealed that 33% of global consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

Consuming less protein derived from industrial animal agriculture can have a positive impact, and plant-based foods are increasing in popularity as a better choice for the planet. The Hartman Group’s recent survey found, “over half of consumers (51%) had purchased plant-based milk, dairy, or meat alternatives in the past three months.” And these are not vegetarians.

Today’s food system needs new tools to improve the way people eat, and those tools can be found in the vast world of plants.

An excess of 391,000 species of plants are found all over the world, most of which were never explored for food applications to make everyday foods more sustainable and healthier.

Mung Bean Benefits

Cultivated for over 4,400 years throughout China, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, people are no strangers to mung beans in their diets. Sprouted, stewed, candied, and eaten in noodles, soups, cakes, and many other forms, mung beans are a staple of millions of people’s diets.

Averaging over 26% protein content, and packed with healthy nutrients, potassium, magnesium, and fiber, these easy-to-digest beans are an ideal source of nutrition. In fact, a recent article published in the academic journal, Nutrients, concluded that “Mung bean protein supplement improves muscular strength in vegetarian adults.”

Additionally, plant-based proteins are a megatrend for 2020, as they were even recently listed in the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot Culinary Forecast. Since mung beans can function as a nutritious alternative to animal proteins, food engineers and foodservice professionals are now incorporating the legume into new food product formulations and inventive dishes.

Furthermore, companies like Eat JUST, Inc. are using the mung bean as the key ingredient source for its plant-based JUST Egg product.

Beyond their health and nutritional benefits, mung beans are also some of the least resource-intensive crops a farmer can grow.

Compared to some commonly grown crops from around the world, these legumes are among the most water efficient and have one of the smallest carbon footprints of any plant-based source of protein. In fact, they require less water and emit less CO2 to produce than soy, corn, wheat, and rice.

Given the tremendous demand for plant-based foods, there is an incredible opportunity for people across global supply chains to improve the food system, starting, importantly, with farmers. Today, the majority of mung beans are grown in India for the domestic Indian market. Those which are grown outside of India are generally exported to India, with the exception of a small portion grown for the sprouting market in Japan and China. The emergence of mung bean and other legume proteins as a catalyst for functional, sustainable food innovation will encourage a growth and diversification in the market.

This growth will be beneficial for farmers and farming communities around the world who see this as an opportunity to enter new markets, build soil, reduce water use, and participate in a rapidly growing segment in food. Thus, a beneficial cycle is triggered, where farmers are incentivized to grow sustainable legumes such as mung beans and consumers have more nutritious and sustainable food options.