What are tormos?

Seen tormos on a menu but never dared to try? Tuck in we say

Ramadan 2011, Ramadan

We’ve just received an email for a Ramadan offer that includes ‘tourmous’. With some difficulty we found a mention on a forum, but it said that they were poisonous; and we’re still none the wiser about its nature. Any ideas?

You’re in luck, our resident Lebanese gourmet eater has actually heard of the beans, and that’s what tormos are, just some beans.

We’ve found that search engines prefer the spelling ‘tormos’ but only slightly; as with all these Arablish words a lack of standardisation often leaves non-speakers at a loss. They’re called Lupin Beans or Lupini Beans in English, and yes they’re apparently poisonous, but only when left raw or if they are incorrectly prepared.

You can’t really eat them raw anyway, they’re excessively bitter. And safe preparation includes soaking them in water (four parts water to one part beans) overnight or for 24 hours, boiling them with salt for two hours, and sometimes pickling with vinegar and brine. There are plenty of signature preparation methods including the Lebanese mum method of soaking for 24 hours, followed by boiling for two hours and then another soak for five days (changing the water once a day), and the Italian stallion favourite (okay, we might have made that name up, but not the method) of soaking the beans for a week in a pillowcase, in a running stream.

But, like we said, you can’t eat them raw, so the very rare reported cases of Lupin poisoning typically come from insufficient soaking. In those cases the beans are soaked enough to make the bitterness palatable, when in fact they should be soaked until the bitterness disappears entirely. The reports we’ve found often also point the finger at poison control authorities, who are not familiar with the toxicity of the bean and fail to identify the symptoms. None of the reports we found led to death, but most were uncomfortable enough to spark mass paranoia.

Having said that, boiled tormos is sprayed with salt and sold to kids and pedestrians in paper cones on the Beirut Corniche; the snack is that common. It’s also staple in mezze in several Arabic cuisines, and is often served cold and salted alongside other nuts and appetisers, sometimes on ice. We wouldn’t be too worried about eating it as our always hungry editor often brings bags of the stuff to the office. But they’re usually kept in the fridge, and are off-limits, so we can’t testify to their tastiness.

View our comprehensive Ramadan guide here

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