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Fabulous fava: British-grown ‘revolutionary’ crop could soon be appearing in UK shopping baskets

  • Tesco and its farmers and suppliers in joint bid to triple production of fava beans
  •  Nutritious beans can be used in wide range of products, including as an alternative protein
  • Fava could help promote healthy soils and cut emissions by locking in soil carbon and replacing some of the soy used in animal feed

The humble fava bean, or broad bean, could soon be making a comeback in farmer’s fields, and in customers’ shopping baskets, as Tesco and its suppliers trial the use of the ’revolutionary crop’ across a host of different product ranges and ingredients.

Fava beans have traditionally been grown across the UK for thousands of years. More recently however, a large proportion of the beans have been exported to the Middle East and used to make staples such as falafel and houmous or used to feed animals across Europe.

But thanks to Tesco’s close partnerships with fava bean processor, AB Mauri, and its own brand suppliers, including ready meal producer, Samworth Brothers, the nutritious beans are set to appear in a host of products in the near future, increasing UK demand in the process.

The UK climate allows the fava bean to grow up and down the country, with approximately 740,000 tonnes harvested in the UK each year on around 170,000 hectares of land*. It is believed that by introducing fava beans into a traditional five-year crop rotation on farms there could be a fivefold increase in the amount produced – with a potential three million tonnes grown per year.

Tesco has been working with AB Mauri to encourage farmers to diversify and increase their production of the legume. It is already being grown from Cornwall, through to Herefordshire, up to Cumbria and as far north as Fife and the east coast of Scotland.

At a time when fertiliser costs have increased rapidly, the humble fava bean thrives without the need for additional chemical-based fertilisers. It also has the added benefit of repairing the soil that it’s grown in, increasing soil fertility and organic content, helping to lock in carbon in the process.

Fava are incredibly versatile and can be used to make gluten-free flour, plant-based products like falafels, houmous, desserts, and can be added to ready meals for a protein hit. Tesco’s development chefs have also been working with Samworth Brothers to develop exciting and nutritious recipes using this protein-rich bean. Fava counts as one of your five-a-day and is a nutritious, more sustainable, locally produced alternative to soy or pea protein, which are used in many alternative proteins.

Tesco and its farmers are also trialling the use of fava beans in pig feed, as an alternative to South American soy.

Andrew Dinsdale, UK Head of Sales at AB Mauri which specialises in the buying and processing of fava beans said: “There is a huge opportunity to add fava beans to a number of products and ingredients - as a plant-based alternative to animal protein, but also in other areas such as bakery or ‘Food To Go’ options. Given fava beans enjoy ideal growing conditions here in the UK, the potential for it to form a key part of our diets in the future is really exciting. We’re really pleased to be partnering with Tesco and its suppliers to explore these options and hope to unveil some delicious new products very soon.”

Emily Rout, Sustainable Food and Innovation Manager at Tesco said: “We’re always looking for innovative ways to make the products we sell more sustainable, so we’re really excited about the potential for fava beans to be used across our product ranges. As we look to overcome challenges like food security, climate change, and biodiversity loss, foods like fava beans could also help us establish a circular food system, as they can also be used in different crop rotations and be fed to animals. It really could be a miracle crop in terms of improving sustainability across our food system”

Phil Bowen, Head of New Product Development at Samworth Brothers said: “This is a great opportunity to step-change the protein market. Fava delivers a locally sourced alternative to the current pea and soya that is currently used. From initial kitchen concept work we are seeing excellent results across the Tesco range. It is so encouraging to see an alternative protein coming to market that not only drives carbon reduction, but also supports local farmers giving them an alternative way to manage their soil and crops.”

Roger Vickers, Chief Executive at PGRO said: “Fava is very much a minority crop in the UK, grown as an important part of a crop rotation system, but there is huge potential for its expansion. We’re looking at the possibility of up to a fivefold increase in the cropping of fava beans in the UK, and if we maxed out on production of fava beans, we could probably replace half of the soya that we currently import.”


 *Figures provided by UK Fava.

Previous studies have shown soy associate with land use change in countries like Brazil has a higher GHG emission footprint than UK grown fava. Research paper on fava beans being used as protein element in a diet for pigs: 

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