Saponins from edible legumes: chemistry, processing, and health benefits

J Med Food. Spring 2004;7(1):67-78. doi: 10.1089/109662004322984734.


Demand for bean products is growing because of the presence of several health-promoting components in edible bean products such as saponins. Saponins are naturally occurring compounds that are widely distributed in all cells of legume plants. Saponins, which derive their name from their ability to form stable, soaplike foams in aqueous solutions, constitute a complex and chemically diverse group of compounds. In chemical terms, saponins contain a carbohydrate moiety attached to a triterpenoid or steroids. Saponins are attracting considerable interest as a result of their diverse properties, both deleterious and beneficial. Clinical studies have suggested that these health-promoting components, saponins, affect the immune system in ways that help to protect the human body against cancers, and also lower cholesterol levels. Saponins decrease blood lipids, lower cancer risks, and lower blood glucose response. A high saponin diet can be used in the inhibition of dental caries and platelet aggregation, in the treatment of hypercalciuria in humans, and as an antidote against acute lead poisoning. In epidemiological studies, saponins have been shown to have an inverse relationship with the incidence of renal stones. Thermal processing such as canning is the typical method to process beans. This study reviews the effect of thermal processing on the characteristics and stability of saponins in canned bean products. Saponins are thermal sensitive. During soaking and blanching, portions of saponins are dissolved in water and lost in the soaking, washing, and blanching liquors. An optimum thermal process can increase the stability and maintain the saponins in canned bean products, which is useful for assisting the food industry to improve thermal processing technology and enhance bean product quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / chemistry
  • Anticarcinogenic Agents / pharmacology
  • Anticholesteremic Agents / chemistry
  • Anticholesteremic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Fabaceae / chemistry*
  • Food Handling / methods*
  • Food Packaging
  • Food Technology
  • Food, Organic*
  • Food-Processing Industry
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Saponins / chemistry*
  • Saponins / pharmacology


  • Anticarcinogenic Agents
  • Anticholesteremic Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Saponins