On the face of it, it is surprising that tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis) has not been developed as an international crop. Its seeds contain more than 40 percent protein—as much as or more than peas, beans, soybeans, and peanuts—the world's premier protein crops. In addition, its seeds contain almost 20 percent oil—as much as soybeans and several other oilseed crops. Tarwi
thus would appear to be a ready source of protein for food and feed as well as a good source of vegetable oil for cooking, margarine, and other processed food products.
One of the most beautiful food crops, tarwi (pronounced tar-wee) could also qualify as an ornamental. Its brilliant blue blossoms bespangle the upland fields of the Indians of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Indeed, corn, potato, quinoa, and tarwi together form the basis of the highland Indian's diet. In Cuzco, the former Inca capital, baskets of the usually bone-white tarwi seeds are a customary sight in the markets. The seeds are most often served in soups.
Tarwi seeds are outstandingly nutritious. The protein they contain is rich in lysine, the nutritionally vital amino acid. Mixing tarwi and cereals makes a food that, in its balance of amino acids, is almost ideal for humans. With its outstanding composition, tarwi might become another “soybean” in importance.
Because of this possibility, researchers in countries as far-flung as Peru, Chile, Mexico, England, the Soviet Union, Poland, East and West Germany, South Africa, and Australia have initiated tarwi research.
This “pioneer” species can be cultivated on marginal soils. Its strong taproot loosens soil and (because it is a legume) its surface roots collect nitrogen from the air. Both of these abilities benefit the land in which it is grown.