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Iowa State University gets grant to study mung beans
Mung beans processed into pasta, flour, even vegan ‘eggs’
You may already be eating mung beans without knowing it.
These legumes, similar to soybeans, have been used for years to make pasta, flour and crunchy snacks. In 2019, JUST Egg hit the market as a vegan egg substitute made from mung bean proteins. And if you’ve ever had Pad Thai, those sprouts on top are from mung beans.
“They are around us, but we don’t even know we’re eating mung beans,“ said Arti Singh, an assistant professor of agronomy at Iowa State University.
Singh and ISU recently got a three-year $727,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study mung bean varieties to see which ones are most resistant to drought, disease and pests while packing a protein punch sought for growing interest in vegetarian diets.
The goal is to give Iowa farmers another crop option, besides just corn and soybeans, that they can plant and harvest without buying new equipment.
Mung beans, thought to have originated in South Asia as early as 1500 BC, have been grown in the United States since the 1800s and been known as the Chickasaw pea, green gram, golden gram and chop suey bean, according to the University of Wisconsin.
The plant-based foods market is expected to make up nearly 8 percent of the global protein market by 2030, with value of the market increasing from $29.4 billion in 2020 to more than $162 billion in 2030, Bloomberg reported.
So it’s no surprise farmers and food processors are looking for crops that provide protein without animal products.
In 2017, Singh selected 500 lines of mung beans and started a breeding program at ISU.
“I was looking for something that could be used in double cropping, so if a summer crop fails a farmer has something else to turn to,” she said. “Or if you want to rotate with millet. These are the various possibilities we want to work on with mung bean.”
She also wanted a variety Iowa farmers could grow without buying new planters or combines, which meant the plants were of similar size to soybeans.
With the new grant, Singh’s team will spend the next three years reviewing data from the 500 lines of mung bean looking at seed yield, days to maturity, growth habit and nutritional traits like protein, amino acid, mineral content and fiber content.
They also are gathering new data, including from test plots planted with mung beans this summer. The trials in Muscatine and Ames, as well as Texas and Wisconsin, involve advanced lines of seed crosses developed by Singh’s program in 2018.
“Mung beans can be planted in June and harvested in end of August or first week of September depending on the maturity of variety,” she said.
Other ISU researchers involved in the grant include Mark Licht, associate professor and cropping systems agronomist; Daren Mueller, assistant professor of plant pathology; Matthew O’Neal, assistant professor of entomology; and Buddhi Lamsal, professor, food science and human nutrition. Steven Cannon, a geneticist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, is a collaborating member.
External partners include the University of Tennessee and the University of Vermont.
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