3,500-year-old mung beans may be the future of plant-based eating

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» 3,500-year-old mung beans may be the future of plant-based eating

Vegans, animal rights activists, climate scientists and environmentalists have known for some time what others are just beginning to figure out: It's time to start planning for a future after animal meat.

Depending on who you ask, animal agriculture has outlived its usefulness, at least when it comes to keeping creatures for their meat. The animal agriculture industry has an outsized impact on the health of the planet, including climate change.

One of the new frontrunners for helping people eat healthier is the 3,500-year-old mung bean. Here's why humans may soon find themselves craving a bean instead of an animal product.

Mung beans in a wooden spoon on a piece of woven cream cloth with frayed edges on a wooden table

Why the Mung Bean?

Plant-based eating isn’t just a passing craze that’s set to make the founders of Beyond Burger™ into billionaires. It’s a lifestyle that’s been a long time in the making, just waiting for technology to catch up and for the public to catch on. One of the things they’re “catching on” to is that plants can serve as the foundation for lots of familiar foods for which meats have traditionally provided the basis.

The mung bean is immediately appealing for several reasons, even before getting into why meat-free eating is good for the planet. Why haven’t we heard much about its uses and benefits? That’s due to the aggressive marketing of more profitable alternatives, such as animal proteins.

Mung beans have been used in cooking for several thousand years of human civilization, and for good reason:

  • Mung beans last on shelves for 256 days, making it a more practical base for many types of home and restaurant cooking.
  • The beans provide a rich source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, antioxidants and amino acids.
  • Some mung bean protein isolate products hitting the market have a crude protein content as high as 80% and are easy to digest, even for people with sensitive digestive systems.

Some people say mung bean products taste better than their predecessors that have already hit the market that are derived from soy or hemp.

Why Plan for a Plant-Based Future?

There is more work to do before the link between meat-free eating and healthier and longer lifespans is proven to meet many people’s satisfaction. Scientific evidence suggests that even low-meat diets are linked to lower rates of death from several specific diseases, including up to a 20% lower rate of death from malignant cancers. In 2013, another investigation of almost 100,000 participants provided evidence that vegetarian diets correlate with lower all-cause mortality.

Like any substantial question, there are investigations to do. However, there are benefits to choosing no-meat diets that go far beyond the real or perceived personal health benefits. Simply put, the health of the planet depends in part on developed countries dramatically curbing the number of animals they keep and the amount of meat they consume.

For example, compared with some of their global counterparts, Americans eat an astonishing amount of meat each year: 30 times as much as the world’s most vegetarian country, Bangladesh.

As the World Economic Forum and many other groups have noted for some time, the carbon footprint and resources usage for meats, including beef, lamb, pork and chicken, is unsustainable. For example, the average carbon footprint from producing beef is about 27 kg. In contrast, tree nuts — which may provide good quality protein — leave a much smaller carbon footprint of about 1.2 kg on average.

The UN goes so far as to call meat “the world’s most urgent problem.” It’s not hard to see why, considering the energy required to keep, transport, process and distribute animals and animal parts as food products. At a time when peoples' carbon must be accounted for and dramatically reduced, the UN calls on research showing that animal agriculture has a larger footprint than all of humanity’s transportation technology combined.

Could that really be because people are eating far more animal meat than they should? Signs point to the answer being “yes.”

How to Incorporate Mung Beans Into Your Diet

We’ll see in a moment how food companies are responding to the ascendant of the mung bean and exploring ways to substitute mung beans in place of highly processed meats.

But if you like to prepare your own meals whenever you can, you probably want to know how to add minimally processed mung beans into your repertoire of home-cooked meals. Your health will thank you for it! Plant-based diets are, in general, recognized as a great way to stave off chronic illnesses and boost one’s overall health.

If you’re wondering how to prepare mung beans to get ready to cook with them, it’s pretty simple: just let some dried mung beans simmer in boiling water for around 45 minutes (split mung beans take half the time). Explore your recipe options:

  • Cooked mung beans add a shot of protein to a lunch or dinner salad.
  • Mung beans together with spinach or other healthy choices can make for some truly delicious, health-minded soups.
  • You can find lots of recipes for mung bean-based dips and hummuses. These can come together in no time for your next impromptu get-together.
  • If you prefer your foods with a kick, mung beans also make awesome primary ingredients in curries.

For other deliciously simple ways to try mung beans, try them out as a base for your next casserole, mixed with rice and quinoa in a pilaf, or as part of a simple homemade stir fry. It should also be noted that mung beans might be easier to digest than other types of beans particularly if you soak them overnight before using them in food preparation.

Creative Vegan Eating with Mung Beans

Companies exploring the use of mung beans claim their products can substitute for all kinds of egg- and meat-based dishes. They claim they can serve as a primary ingredient for baked goods, power bars, smoothies, pastas, and even condiments and additives like egg-free mayo.

People can expect vegan crab cakes and other tasty and convincing meat substitutes on store shelves and dining room tables before too long, too. Beyond Burger™ has announced “Beyond Beef” — a blend of mung beans, rice proteins and peas — that more credibly passes for meat than any other alternatives.

It comes at a great time. Developed countries and their territories need new ways to help people make more health- and environment-friendly choices. California — the state where the mung bean is currently being introduced for use in plant-based eggs at popular restaurants — has led the way in vegan eating for some time. This could account for why its healthcare and health of its citizens is stronger than most others.

As time progresses and more research becomes available, states and their citizens will undoubtedly have even more of a reason to switch to plant-based living. The options for safeguarding public health via this lifestyle change will only continue to increase, allowing more of us to do our part to take better care of our planet and ourselves.

Kate is a health and sustainability journalist from Pennsylvania. She is proud to live a fully vegan lifestyle and share that experience with others through her writing. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her blog, So Well, So Woman.

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