Researchers develop beans that will cook in 5 minutes

Prof Stephen Mwangi Githiri, Legume Breeding for improved Quality project leader, examines a bean plant at a green house at JKUAT.


What puts you off when you see a plate of beans?”

This is the first question Prof Stephen Githiri, a researcher at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture, poses as he leads us through narrow footpaths between sprawling plantations and numerous greenhouses at the expansive research university.

He offers the response as we enter one of the greenhouses housing different varieties of bean plants. “People keep off beans and other legumes for two main reasons. One, is the gases they produce which cause discomfort especially in social places.

The other reason is their hard-to-cook tendency which consumes a lot of fuel.” The slender plants twirling on rods in planting pots and which are heavily weighed down by green and ripening pods at the greenhouse pass for ordinary beanvarieties. But out of the tagged rose coco, the pinto and several other varieties sampled at the Juja based research institution in Nairobi, the researchers are working on beanvarieties that will cook in up to less than five minutes, varieties that will have up to zero flatulence and those that will be high yielding. The programme brings together four teams of researchers led by Dr Florence Kyallo from the university’s Nutrition and Health Department, Prof Githiri from the Horticulture Department, Dr Daniel Sila from the Department of Food Science and Technology, Dr Stephen Kimani from the university’s Information and Communications Technology Department and Dr Peter Kahenya, the Project Manager at the Legume Centre of Excellence for Food and Nutrition Security (LCEFoNS).

JKUAT in March won a Sh400 million Vlir-ous funded Institutional University Cooperation programme (IUC) to collaborate with KU Leuven and Vrige Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Belgium. External researchers in the programme, who organise occasional meetings with their Kenyan counterparts include world renowned scientist, Prof Marc Hendrickx, a researcher at KU Leuven, VUB’s Prof Geert Angenon, KU Leuven’s Prof Christophe Matthys and Prof Wolfang De Meuter from VUB. “The aim of the programme is to strengthen JKUAT in institutional university cooperation as well as come up with high yielding beanvarieties for farmers with desirable qualities for consumers,” explained Dr Sila who is the IUC programme coordinator in Kenya.

According to Dr Kyallo, the lead researcher in nutrition and health, there is stunted growth among various parts of the country due to poor protein consumption. “There is 26 per cent stunted growth in Kilifi, Kitui and other counties that can’t provide proteins to growing children. Since beansand other legumes are more affordable as compared to meat, we hope to increase their uptake in theses communities by making them appealing,” says Dr Kyallo. She explains that with anti-logging campaign, launched in February, households that rely on firewood and charcoal have shunned beans which take long to cook.

Mothers on the other hand fear feeding children on beans because of the gases they produce. “Our activities in the health and nutrition department is simply to map out legume consumption among Kenyan populations, sensitise households on uptake of new legume based foods and provide guidelines for improving dietary uptake in legumes,” explains Dr Kyallo. Prof Githiri, who heads the first project of the programme dubbed Legume Breeding for Improved Quality says the aim of the project is to develop legume varieties with improved cooking and nutritional quality. The teams focus at the moment is the common bean, cow pea and the green gram where a total of 445 bean varieties from all over the country have been collected and classified in terms of ease of cooking. At the moment, the researchers have established that the pinto which comes in varying sizes of cream with brown spots takes the longest to cook up to six hours.

The project also carries out consumer analysis to establish which sizes and colours are most preferred. At the moment, farmers supply stores with the ordinary rose coco, Wairimu, the purple bean and the red type. “The red type is most preferred for its thick red soups that goes well with rice and other meals while mothers would rather feed their children on the yellow beans because it has less flatulence. Those who dislike beansthat split when cooked go for the pinto,” says Prof Githiri. He says that with conventional breeding, as opposed to genetic engineering, the researchers are using artificial cross pollination that will be followed with selection of the beans with desirable qualities. “Ours are not GMOs. We don’t add any elements from foreign bodies,” Prof Githiri explains. Dr Sila is responsible for processing and storage of legumes that are classified according to their ease of cooking.

He oversees activities of an analysis room that is equipped with high end equipment and screening tools used to identify sensitivity of legumes to the hard-to-cook behaviour. The project is also equipped with screening tools that establish digestibility behaviours in legumes. Prior to acquisition of expensive screening tools that look at the chemistry of the beanvarieties, the lead researcher says methods like splitting between fingers were used. The screening tools in the department’s fully equipped analysis room include a texture analyser that applies force on a loaded legume and mimics teeth to establish the exact force used to break the legume. Results are calibrated on a screen in terms of high, medium and low in sorting legumes into hard-to-cook classes.

There is also a high performing liquid chromatography (HPLC), an equipment that identifies sugars, amino acids, protein compounds and nutrients available in the legume. Results of a particular legume under analysis and relayed on a screen and validated using the highly effective Fourier- Transform near Infrared F-TNIR tool. Prof Sila says indigestible sugars present in the legumes are responsible for flatulence. He says processing will inform the correct pollination that will improve the qualities of the said sugars.

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