Beans have a rich history in cuisines throughout the world but are one of the most underused foods in the American diet. For bakers and food formulators, beans offer a convenient and cost-effective way to boost the nutritional profile of both new and existing products. Packed with protein and fiber, they are a natural and wholesome way to target today’s health-conscious consumers.

For nutrition and convenience, ADM Edible Bean Specialties, Decatur, IL, offers VegeFull, a line of cooked ground bean products that can be incorporated into snacks, cereals, breads and tortillas. The VegeFull line includes pinto, black, small red, navy and other beans available in whole bean, ground pieces, grits, noodles and powders. With several varieties and forms of beans available, VegeFull helps bakers and food formulators achieve varying flavors, textures and colors in their products.

Beans are sometimes referred to as a “superfood” because of their excellent nutritional profile. They are among the best sources of plant protein and are low in both saturated and total fat. They have a low glycemic index (GI) and are packed with essential nutrients, including the B vitamin folate, and minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and potassium.

But the nutritional benefits of beans do not stop there. They are also one of the richest sources of dietary fiber, including soluble fiber. Soluble fiber from vegetables is associated with reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) blood cholesterol levels. Dietary fiber like that found in beans is also important for digestive health and is essential for intestinal regularity. Although fiber is an important part of a healthy diet, most Americans consume only about half of the recommended amount.

VegeFull bean powders, which are made from ground cooked beans, contain more than twice the fiber and protein compared with whole-wheat flour and are one of the easiest ways to incorporate beans into baked foods. Bean powders can replace some of the flour or added fat in baked foods, extruded pastas and snacks. They not only add nutrition but also can help with product moisture, act as a natural binder and thickening agent, and provide natural color.

“Traditionally, one of the biggest challenges food formulators face with beans is that they can be inconvenient because they need to be soaked and cooked for several hours,” said ADM edible bean specialist Patricia DeMark. “But VegeFull products are quick-prep and ready-to-use for maximum convenience.”

In addition to the specific benefits related to protein, fiber and other nutrients, adding beans also offers manufacturers the possibility to include the appealing “serving of vegetables” claim to packaging. With VegeFull, children who don’t like to eat their veggies may be able to get up to a full serving of vegetables in unexpected ways, as in cookies or in the bread for their sandwich — a unique way for food manufacturers to differentiate their products from the competitors.

It’s easy to see what’s so “super” about beans; their nutritional benefits are almost endless. And with VegeFull cooked ground bean products, packing a nutritional punch in snacks and baked foods can be creative, convenient and cost-effective.