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Warning: Lupine seeds can be poisonous

For some years now, the seeds of lupins have been increasingly used in food production - for example for the production of gluten-free baked goods and pasta or dietary products for people who are allergic to milk protein. In some European and North African countries, the seeds of the lupins are also consumed as a snack.

Depending on the botanical species and geographical origin of the lupins, their seeds may contain bitter quinolizidine alkaloids. If these alkaloids are not properly removed in a so-called "debittering process", they can trigger symptoms of poisoning in humans that affect the nervous, circulatory and digestive systems.

"When buying unprocessed lupine seeds, it is usually difficult to tell whether they are bitter lupine seeds that contain poisonous alkaloids or sweet lupine seeds that can be consumed without further processing," says Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) scientifically independent institution in the business area of ​​the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

Small risk

In the past, isolated accidents caused by bitter lupine seeds have been reported in Germany. "The BfR recommends consumers who do not have their own expertise to use products that are clearly identified as sweet lupine seeds or already debittered bitter lupine seeds and to refrain from debittering lupine seeds themselves.

"For the period from 2010 to 2016, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) received data from the poison information centers on around 30 specific cases with symptoms of poisoning of varying degrees of severity, triggered by bitter lupine seeds.

In addition, reports of poisoning accidents caused by bitter lupine seeds have been published in the international literature, some of which were severe. As a rule, these cases were due to insufficient technical debittering of bitter lupine seeds.

Bitter from alkaloids

A bitter taste of lupine seeds or the products made from them can be an indicator of the presence of undesirable lupine alkaloids. The bitter-tasting soaking water from lupine seeds should never be consumed or used to prepare food.

The BfR recommends that manufacturers of foods containing lupine seeds only put lupine seeds on the market that can be consumed without any further household debittering processes. These can be sweet lupine seeds, which inherently have low alkaloid contents, or bitter lupine seeds that have already been sufficiently debittered by the manufacturer. In the case of flour made from lupine seeds for sale to consumers, the manufacturer should ensure that it is made from lupine seeds that are low in alkaloid or have been sufficiently debittered. (red / idw, March 27, 2017)