Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

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Nutritional quality of Onobrychis viciifolia (Scop.) seeds: A potentially novel perennial pulse crop for human use

Author: Evan B. Craine, Muhammet Şakiroğlu, Tessa E. Peters, Spencer Barriball & Brandon Schlautman

Publication: Legume Science

Researchers from the Legume and Crop Stewardship Programs at The Land Institute collaborated with Turkish research partners to release this publication documenting the potential of sainfoin, a perennial legume, as a viable perennial pulse crop that provides both comparable nutritional value to current pulses on the market and ecosystem services such as nitrogen fixation.


Onobrychis viciifolia (hereafter sainfoin) is an autotetraploid (2n = 4x = 28), allogamous insect-pollinated perennial legume originating from the Caucasus that has historically been cultivated as a forage. As a perennial legume, sainfoin has the potential to improve the sustainability of agriculture and food systems in multiple ways. Sainfoin can provide continuous living cover and biological nitrogen fixation to enhance soil fertility and health. It can also provide ecosystem services as a resource for pollinators and wildlife in addition to nitrogen fixation. Building on this history of valuable uses, The Land Institute is developing sainfoin as a pulse crop for human use. With the goal of supporting human diets with a sustainable, perennial protein source and nutrient-dense crop, this innovation requires a thorough understanding of the chemical composition of sainfoin seeds to ensure safety and potential nutritional quality. Using seeds from commercial sainfoin varieties developed for forage production, grown by commercial sainfoin seed growers in the western United States, this study evaluates seed composition as part of an ongoing investigation into sainfoin’s potential as a novel pulse. We found crude protein content (38.78%) comparable with soybean and lupine, fat content (6.96%) comparable with lupine and chickpea, and starch (7.1%) and dietary fiber content (48.96%) comparable with lupine. Phytic acid content was higher than pulses (1790.89 mg). Ash (3.81%), iron (64.14 ppm), and zinc contents (61.63 ppm) were in the higher end of the range for pulses. This study indicates that sainfoin could become a novel, nutrient-dense crop for human nutrition. Future studies are required to further characterize seed composition and safety and demonstrate how common legume processing techniques may influence nutritional quality.

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