Belonging to the family of Fabaceae with other legumes and peas, velvet beans are an exotic legume grown in India, China, West Indies and parts of Africa. Also referred to by its scientific name mucuna pruriens, velvet beans have regional names in many languages of India, such as kaunch ke beej in Hindi, poonaikali in Tamil, alkoshi in Bengali, naikorna in Malayalam, etc. Used in Ayurveda and African traditional medicine for centuries, these legumes have received scientific attention in recent years because of their health benefits and medicinal properties. Containing 32g of protein and 5.16g of dietary fibre per 100g, velvet beans are rich sources of these macronutrients. They are also high in phytochemicals and antioxidants, and have neuroprotective properties, which can greatly benefit brain health. Here are the various reasons why this lesser known legume should be a part of your diet.
Benefits of Velvet Beans
- Loaded with phytochemicals
Velvet beans contain over 60 different kinds of phytochemicals, including major ones like flavonoids, alkaloids, saponins and tannins. Phytochemicals have antibacterial, antiviral, and antimetastatic properties, and have shown potential in battling cell damage from free radicals and helping prevent cancer.
- Supports the release of dopamine and serotonin
According to a study published in Plant Signaling and Behaviour in 2018, velvet beans are rich in the compound levodopa or L-Dopa (4-7 percent by weight), the precursor molecule that triggers the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is the chemical linked to action and reward, which boosts your mood, causes feelings of happiness, and improves alertness and focus when released. Serotonin helps to stabilise your mood and increase feelings of well-being, and is also connected to healthy sleeping patterns. Thus the consumption of velvet beans can boost your mood, improve your sleep and have antidepressant properties.
- Used for treatment of Parkinson’s disease
A lack of production of dopamine by the brain is one of the reasons behind Parkinson’s disease, and levodopa is recommended to tackle this disease by improving dopamine production. The presence of L-Dopa in velvet beans can make them an alternative natural source to commercially available levodopa medication, says a study published in Neurology in 2018.
- Helps maintain fertility in men and women
Velvet beans have found use in Ayurveda for centuries because of their benefits for sexual health, virility and libido. As a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine notes, they consist of a number of alkaloids which help improve testosterone secretion. This increases sperm count, improves sperm motility and boosts libido. By boosting dopamine levels, velvet beans also reduce the production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and prolactin, which are linked to low fertility in women.
- Promotes improved control of blood sugar levels
A study on the effects of Mucuna pruriens seed extract on diabetes was published in 2011 in Asian Pac J Trop Med. The results of the study showed that the plant extract could be helpful in maintaining blood sugar levels. The high fibre content in the beans can also help prevent obesity, a potential risk factor of Type 2 diabetes.
How to Use Them
Velvet beans can be used whole to make curries or other dishes. Similar to kidney beans (rajma), you have to soak them in water for 10-12 hours before cooking. The beans can be roasted and ground into powder form, which can be consumed in the form of flour or in addition to other kinds of flour. They are also available commercially as supplements. Make sure to consult your general physician before you add the supplements to your diet.
- Velvet Bean Ladoo: Grind together 6 dates, 6 soaked cashews, ½ cup oats, 4 tbsp of velvet bean powder, ½ tsp vanilla extract and a pinch of Himalayan salt. Make small balls from the mix, and store them in an airtight container.
- Velvet Bean Tortillas: Add 1 part of ground velvet bean flour to 3 parts of corn flour to make the tortilla dough. Knead well, roll it out thinly and cook it on a flat bottomed pan. Serve with your choice of vegetables, pickles and salsa.
- Blueberry Moon Latte: Melt some coconut oil in a small saucepan over a medium flame. Add turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper, heat until the spices become fragrant. To this add ¼ cup of blueberries and 2 cups of your choice of milk and bring to a boil. Take it off the heat and add 2 teaspoons of velvet bean powder. Strain, and enjoy it hot.
What to Keep In Mind
- The testosterone boosting effects of velvet beans is because of its androgenic activity. Those with androgen excess, which is a common feature of PCOS, should not consume velvet beans.
- Due to lack of research, the safety of consumption of mucuna pruriens for pregnant or lactating women is not known. It is best to be on the safe side and not ingest them during these times.
- The hair of the bean pod contains a strong irritant which can cause severe itching and swelling. Make sure to handle the pods with gloves on, and never consume the outer shell of the pods.
With inputs from Dr Lakshmi K, Ph.D Food Science & Nutrition, University of Georgia (USA), Head Nutritionist, URLife.