The pressing need for the radical transformation towards more sustainable agricultural and food systems, which only recently gained substantially more acknowledgement, staged several underutilised crops in new roles. Legumes have become the primary focus of research and analytical attention first in agroecology, and lately in international policy communities and the social sciences. With their effortless talent to fix nitrogen into the soil, substitute animal protein, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, legumes are now recognised as forgotten stars, that could help both agriculture and the food industry become more ecological. However, legume production and consumption, albeit multiple advantages, remain still marginal in Europe for several reasons. This article adopts an interpretative policy framework to address the legume paradox, that is our legume-dependent agri-food systems relying on imports and simultaneously maintaining deficient production and consumption of legumes. We reviewed the state of the art of legume-based food systems in Hungary by analysing conceptual frameworks and data from exploratory mixed-method research. In a case study research, we analysed the root causes of this state-of-the-art through mapping the understanding of challenges and potentialities of legume value chains in Hungary by critical stakeholders. Our primary research question is what is at play behind and how Hungarian stakeholders make meaning of this paradox. We also explore how the current trends could still open pathways for more legumes in production and consumption. Drawing on insights from the literature and stakeholder interviews in Hungary, we show an extremely locked-in agri-food system. Our results indicate that especially small scale producers face difficulties to tackle with shallow yield stability of legumes. Their struggle is further aggravated by the dumping of cheap import of plant-based protein food and feed and inorganic nitrogen fertilisers, virtually absent small-scale processing, consumers' unawareness of legumes' benefits and preoccupation with their gut discomfort and food services' unwillingness to experiment with tasty plant-based protein food. We suggest several future research topics and pathways to promote more sustainable legume-based food systems. In conclusion, we argue that any transition towards legume-based food and feed systems would initially require the mutual engagement of multiple stakeholders in the value chains, strong policy support orchestrated by public institutions.