Sacha Poroto/Andean Tree Bean/ Erythrina edulis

Eating beans keeps you slim. Beans are loaded with huge amount of protein and are quite flavorful, particularly as a substitute for meats in a vegetarian diet. Just one cup of beans provides as much as 16 grams of protein.

Today, I will introduce you to another wonderful bean called Sacha Poroto. This smallish tree is native to the Andean region from western Venezuela to southern Bolivia. It could be said that Erythrina edulis is the “tree bean of the Andes.” However, since pre-Columbian times it has been grown less for its beauty than for its large, edible seeds. It is a legume species and its seeds, like those of other legumes (also called beans, grain legumes, or pulses), are important sources of food both for humans and animals.

Erythrina edulis, is one of about 115 Erythrina species in the subfamily Papilionoideae of the Leguminosae family. Over a normal life span of 30 to 40 years, the leafy trees grow up to 14 m tall with stem diameters up to 37 cm. The stem and branches are covered with stout prickles. The alternate leaves are trifoliate with long petioles and two nectar-producing glands at the base of each leaflet. The flowers have a reddish-green calyx and a crimson corolla with an upper petal and two lateral petals forming the keel. The two-petaled flowers face upward, forming a large cup in which nectar gathers.

The seeds contain 23% protein, 1% fat, 8% crude fiber and 84% moisture. They have a good balance of amino acids and a digestibility after cooking of about 50%. Seeds must be boiled at least 45 minutes or fried thoroughly before being eaten. As a paste, they provide a nutritious base for tortillas, desserts, pies, soups and food for infants. They are also boiled, sun dried, ground and added to flour. Research indicates that uncooked Erythrina edulis seeds can be toxic if consumed over a long period.

Erythrina edulis flower

Sacha Poroto is an important food crop because it grows in areas where seasonal food deficits occur often. In these “famine seasons,” its dried seeds are an important nutritional safety net. They are used particularly in the months just before field crops are ready to harvest—a time when the previous year’s harvest is often depleted and food is scarce. This tree-bean can then make the difference between health and malnutrition. Beans are rich in protein, and Erythrina edulis seeds complement the starch-rich cereals or root crops that make up the bulk of food consumed by the poor. Moreover, the amino acids in its protein complement those found in cereals and roots.

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