Nuna beans

September 10, 2009

Nuna beans are native pole beans from South America. They are day length sensitive requiring 12 hours of light per day to produce a crop. They are NOT adapted to temperate climes.

Nuna beans are unique in "popping" when heated either in a hot air popper or in a pan with a bit of oil. They pop vigorously similar to popcorn but with only 2x to 4x expansion in volume compared to popcorn with 25x to 40x expansion.

There are numerous nuna varieties available in the highlands of Peru and in similar locales near the equator. Over the years, about 50 varieties have been collected and are held in various seed trusts around the world. Quite a few of these are held in restricted trusts that do NOT permit patenting of their germplasm.

About 15 years ago, a company in California crossed a nuna bean to California Light Red Kidney which is a close relative but adapted to U.S. growing conditions. From this cross, they selected a high quality popping bean that has bush habit, daylength neutral, and heavy production. They acquired a patent on the beans. This patent is seriously questionable because it does not meet several patent requirements. Basically, they combined the popping trait with regional adaptation to temperate climate. This is just plain ordinary plant breeding and does not create anything new which is required for a patent. Regardless, the patent is still in force to the best of my knowledge.

Several breeding programs at universities had already crossed nuna beans with local varieties. These programs were active in Oregon, and at least 2 other states. The program at OSU developed a range of breeding lines but cannot release them because of the patent.

I got a sample of the beans from OSU and popped them to see what they are like. The beans are small, about 3/16 inches diameter and slightly oval in shape. They pop into a crunchy nutty snack that tastes pretty good.

Please don't contact me for seed. They are not available at this time.


Comments (15)

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    This patent is seriously questionable because it does not meet several patent requirements. Basically, they combined the popping trait with regional adaptation to temperate climate. This is just plain ordinary plant breeding and does not create anything new which is required for a patent.

    I agree. This is what the PVP program was designed for, and it should have been used in this case. The abuse of plant patents, particularly for general traits - such popping beans, yellow beans, warted pumpkins (all current cases) - is becoming more widespread. It is especially obnoxious when the holders of these patents then attempt to eliminate pre-existing varieties, under the guise of "patent infringement".

    This is why I am a big believer in the legal concept of precedence - when a potential problem arises, you have to prevent the first occurrence. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Bio-Tech first broke down the barriers to plant patenting, and now less-than-scrupulous companies are taking advantage of the legal precedent to gain unfair advantage over competitors.

    The U.S. Patent Office is not doing its job properly, and both competing businesses & consumers are paying the price.

    This topic has come up before, regarding the Nunas. From what I have read on other threads, the patent was tied up in litigation over indigenous property rights... which may explain why the beans have yet to appear. Too bad, because while most patented vegetable varieties are of little interest to gardeners, Nunas beans would likely become very popular.

  • rodger

    I remember seeing these in your garden and they were loaded, I thought we were friends, no seeds. . If there was just some way to remove the politics out of gardening. I see you made it home safely Zeedman I sent you an e-mail earlier. Fussion I guess you should be harvesting the white seeded peanuts about now they too were looking good when I came by , even better than mine your whole garden looked great compared to mine this year. I just spent the week in Virginia and got home this evening and I didn't think it could get any drier. The pig weed has even shriveling up. Rodger

  • fusion_power


    I have a cup or so of saved seed and am planning on growing a row in the garden this year. Jim Myers also has several lines that might be available if you contact him.

    A very interesting trait of these beans is that the snap stage beans are very tender, crisp, and sweet. I am going to try eating them as snaps from this season's crop.


  • happyday

    Roger, I went looking and found this person offering nuna beans, could you get some and try to breed them yourself?

    Here is a link that might be useful: Nuna bean trade offered

  • happyday

    When googling "nuna beans" and "popping beans" I found lots of outrage and legal challenges to the patent from Andean groups and other researchers, so they may not be able to keep the patent. Also found a pdf saying that this was tested as a Wisconsin crop.

    QÂosco Poroto is the first variety of popping bean to be released by the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture.

    This page has interesting reading and links to genetic seed banks. I looked at the GRU site. You have to register to request seed.

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Thanks for the links, Happy. I've been keeping up with this since I first read of Nunas in Carol Deppe's book. Surprised to learn, though, that trials had been conducted virtually in my (our) back yard.

    "The patent gives Ehlers and Sterner exclusive monopoly ownership over nuna hybrids with characteristics that allow it to grow outside the Andes."

    It is precisely this type of patent that I find most objectionable. They are using the patent law for "inventions" to cover the products of conventional breeding. Furthermore, the patent does not apply to a particular cultivar they developed... it applies to any cultivar that meets the same description, including any that might be developed by others in the future from different breeding lines. It is legally unsound, and should be rejected... with an injunction that prevents the "inventors" from seeking legal action against others while the "patent" is still pending.

    Products of conventional breeding should be covered by the PVP system, which was the intent of the program... and there should be a similar international standard. The PVP system gives the breeder reasonable intellectual property rights, while still allowing continued breeding by others, and seed saving (but not sale) of the purchased seed. Also - and this is an important distinction - it allows the products (seed or processed plant material) to be possessed without violating patent law (note that possession of GM seed without license is a violation of law). A PVP patent would not infringe on the rights of indigenous breeders.

    All that being said...

    I have equal objections to the assertions by geographical regions that they have the sole right to determine what may - and may not - be done with plants indigenous to their area. This is only a different variation of ownership rights for life forms. All life forms that are the product of natural breeding should remain in the public domain.

    Because the indigenous farmers "may" develop a day-neutral Numas, or "may" wish to export in the future, does not mean that they automatically trump the rights of those who have already done so. The choice of one's food - for a person, or for a nation - is a basic right, and no legal entity should be allowed to withhold that right. The ideal system will allow every country to develop agriculture as they see fit, without restricting the ability of other countries to do likewise.

  • happyday

    Zeedman, agreed. If only the Andean groups had secured the right kind of patent, if any, for themselves first before giving genetic material away to researchers and greedy developers. Hopefully the right to grow food will prevail, but there are greedy corporations who will put up a fight.

    Also, if only the Andean groups had gotten some grow lights and developed their own day-neutral Numas, and arranged to sell them worldwide, either by their own native seed company or partnership with another seed company. I'd buy from them.

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    Happy, I realize the last two paragraphs of my previous post must sound a little harsh, especially for those of you who know me. I am no fan of Big Ag & GMO's, and am resolutely opposed to the patenting of lifeforms.

    However, justice is not served by countering one evil with another that is equal but opposite. It does not matter whether a food crop is controlled by a multi-national corporation, or by a government (multi-national or otherwise), if the purpose of that control is to deny others the right to grow it. Royalties, whether based upon patents or national sovereignty, constitute economic denial. Hungry is still hungry.

    Had those fighting the patented Nunas sought only to keep all varieties bred from their seeds in the public domain, I would be 100% in agreement. Some involved in this fight (quoted in your links) have expressed that point of view. But when others go on to say that they should be the only ones to hold exclusive rights, based upon geography or history, I must disagree.

    This is not like the case of the Mayocoba beans, where a trait was patented that was already being used in commerce. The patent holders in that case sought & received injunctions halting all current imports of "yellow beans"... even in varieties which predated the patent. In contrast, there is no pre-existing trade in Nunas to disrupt, since they were not already being imported into the U.S., nor were there any apparent plans to begin doing so until after the new varieties were bred. The day-neutral Nunas would have opened up an entirely new market. Other than the patent itself, I see no exploitation here, unless there is more to the story than we know so far.

    The rights of indigenous peoples should be respected... but it becomes a question of what those rights are. Where do we draw the line? Does the source of a crop determine who controls it? Can Mexico dictate who grows corn? Can the New World dictate who grows beans & tomatoes, and the Old World dictate who grows wheat? Food crops should be considered the property of all Mankind, with only limited exceptions. That they are not is an issue of politics.

    I would have liked to have seen a partnership come out of the negotiations, if there even were negotiations over Nunas, rather than both sides seeking advantage. A PVP registration for a specific variety would, IMO, have been fair to all parties. It would have preserved the unrestricted right of the Andean people to grow & breed their own varieties, while opening a market that did not previously exist.

    Don't get me wrong, I am happy that the Third World was successful in blocking this patent. I just wish that there were an alternative agreement which would allow the cultivation of these Nunas varieties in the U.S., and one does not seem to be forthcoming. As things stand now, all parties are losers... with gardeners as collateral damage.

  • fusion_power

    While I agree with your overall perspective zeedman, I have to point out one very important aspect of the nuna patent that may be significant in the future. Once the patent expires - and it will expire - nuna traits will then no longer be patentable. This will eventually mean the genetics can be legitimately traded and that commerce will be facilitated. The problem is that this should be possible now instead of a few years in the future.

    One other concern I see is that South American natives could wind up with a native food crop being overwhelmed by industrial production in temperate zones. While I like the idea that anyone anywhere can grow the crop they choose, that inherently means there will be haves and have nots.


  • happyday

    Zeedman, agreed again, you said it well. I only meant that if the Andean farmers had gotten a day neutral seed on the market, we could support them by buying it. Not sure I want to support the greedy researchers even if they do begin to sell it, which it looks like they are not yet doing.

    US Patent 6419976 - Bean-nut popping beans
    US Patent Issued on July 16, 2002
    Estimated Patent Expiration Date: September 23, 2019

    Here is a link that might be useful: Read the patent here

  • zeedman Zone 5 Wisconsin

    "One other concern I see is that South American natives could wind up with a native food crop being overwhelmed by industrial production in temperate zones. While I like the idea that anyone anywhere can grow the crop they choose, that inherently means there will be haves and have nots."(Fusion)

    As much as I would love to see Nunas displace GM soybeans in the Midwest, I get your point. Especially since such things have happened before, such as the U.S. shipping corn to Mexico as "food aid". The corn was GM, and the shipment was made on the condition that the corn could not be milled or processed prior to issue. Of course, when farmers had free, viable corn seed, they planted some of it. The result was large-scale contamination of native corns... in the center of corn's genetic base. If intentional (and I believe it was) it was a crime against humanity.

    There may be no "fair & equitable" solution to this dilemma, no win-win. There is a good business model, however, in the "fair trade" coffee. Given a choice, many - like Happy & me - would support small farmers over large corporations. But I don't think Nunas will ever be popular enough to make such a system feasible in this case... you can't make money as an "alternative" for a crop until it reaches a certain level of acceptance, and Nunas may never reach that point. I'd really love to be proven wrong on that. ;-)

  • fusion_power


    I suspect that Nunas will eventually reach the point of common acceptance. They are pretty good. I have several pounds from my garden this year. They are fun to pop and make a delicious crunchy snack.

    DarJones - who will post a photo later.

  • deanriowa

    Has anyone been successfully in growing nuna beans here further north in Zones 4 or 5?


  • fusion_power

    Dean, South American Nuna beans can only be grown in tropical climates because they are severely day length sensitive. However, they can be crossed with temperate adapted beans and successfully adapted to grow in most of North America.

    Here is a photo of about a pound of beans that I grew. These are from OSU seed.

    The problems I see with these beans are:
    1. The plants are poorly rooted and have to be hilled up like a row of corn to maintain vertical growth.
    2. The versions I am working with are still not fully bush beans though they have the bush trait. They grow with abruptly terminated runners up to 2 feet long.
    3. They exhibit blooming over an extended period as compared to the synchronous bloom of most commercial bush beans.
    4. They are relatively poor producers compared to most beans grown today.

    An inportant trait of nunas is that the bean must be as nearly round as possible. This shape enhances the popping character. As you can see in this photo, these beans are slightly kidney shaped.

    The P4 version is black and has much better snap beans than P10. I tried to make snaps from some of the p10's this year but they were too fibrous.


  • aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

    Dar, what's new on the Nuna front, I'm about to grow them again this
    year just for seed, I still don't have a lot so I haven't tried
    popping any. Due to health issues my gardening days will be limited, as
    promised I haven't shared any of my seed with anyone but would like to
    pass a few along if possible. Has that stupid patent expired yet, what's
    the score on that?


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