Retailer hopes diversification of crop use will have multiple benefits for health and environment

The fava, or broad bean, is being tipped for a comeback 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.

Now, Tesco says that thanks to its 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.

Huge UK potential

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 across the country from Cornwall to Herefordshire, Cumbria and Fife.

At a time when fertiliser costs have increased rapidly, the 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.

Versatile legume

Fava are versatile and can be used to make gluten-free flour, plant-based products like falafels, houmous and 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 new recipes using the protein-rich bean.

Fava counts as one of your 5 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, 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, added: “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.”

And 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.”