Research involving Aberdeen scientists has uncovered that a plant native to America has potential to be grown in the UK. The high protein potato bean, commonly found in Florida, Texas and Colorado, once was a staple foraged food source.
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) have studied the potato bean to investigate if it could be used as part of a healthier diet while also potentially helping the environment.
The study is published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis and was funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS).
Dr Madalina Neacsu from the Rowett Institute said: “We studied the Apios Americana – or potato bean – as part of our research into novel and sustainable sources of protein and fibre in a bid to find alternatives and to diversify our dietary choices.
“The majority of people’s protein intake in the UK currently comes from animal sources, however if we could diversify our recommended dietary intake of protein from plant-based sources, such as the potato bean, this could contribute towards meeting climate targets as well as improving health. The potato bean has shown previously that it can adapt to a wide geographical range and has a high tolerance to a wide range of conditions, so it is able to grow in environments away from America.”
Dr Madalina Neacsu from the Rowett Institute -Image: Aberdeen University
Dr Max Coleman from RBGE added: “Wild species related to crops are an enormous resource for agriculture and the importance of conserving their genetic resources is a significant role for botanic gardens today. With the combination of taxonomic and horticultural expertise, we have a part to play in working with institutes with a focus on crop genetic resources.
“The potato bean is one example of the potential of wild plants to diversify our diet and build resilience in agriculture. There are an estimated 30,000 edible plants available to us and yet widespread consumption only involves about 150 of them. Just 12 crops provide 80% of our calories, meaning we rely on less than 1% of the food plants available to us. There is considerable exciting work ahead.”