Beans provide significant amounts of fiber and soluble fiber (between nine to thirteen grams of fiber per cup of cooked dried beans,) which can help lower blood cholesterol. In addition, beans contain complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron as well.
A downside for many edible beans is the fact that they contain oligosaccharide polymers (in particular raffinose and stachyose), a type of sugar molecule found in cabbage as well, which is digested by bacteria in the large intestine, generating flatulence-causing gases in the process, thus the children's rhyme "Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit". This unpleasant side effect can be mitigated by soaking beans in water for up to 24 hours before cooking, or using the short soak boil method, thus removing the sugar molecule in question, in addition to contributing to better cooking in less time. After the beans are cooked, vinegar may be used to this end. It is important to use vinegar only after the beans are cooked, as vinegar would interfere with the beans' softening while boiling.
I love beans, and there are periods during which I eat them on a daily basis, as the abundance of bean recipes published since this project started clearly demonstrates. I have come up with what I believe is an new, original way to enjoy beans as a fast, healthy snack, or side dish: marinating them in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), sea salt, and herbs or seeds for flavor.
I store the beans in glass jars while they are very hot, just drained from their cooking water. This way they absorb spiciness and flavor from the EVOO, flavor from the herbs or seeds added, while acquiring an almost meaty texture. You may start eating the beans 24 hours after preparation, however they last for a few weeks in refrigerator. This days, I have my fresh batches, using different varieties of beans almost each week and preparing two or three single-flavored jars at a time.
The popular 15 bean soup recipe is an indication of the wide variety of beans commonly used in modern cooking. Though the traditional recipe includes ham, by leaving that ingredient out of this soup it is popular among vegetarians and vegans as well. Though today a package of 15 dried beans plus seasonings may be purchased in stores, I prefer to make my own bean mix, as people used to do in the past, even if I may sometimes end up with 10 or 17 legumes rather than 15. The trick is to avoid beans with widely varying cooking times (i.e. lentils require 45 minutes, while unsoaked limas require 3 hours or so. See the cooking timetable according to bean variety and cooking method).
Some kinds of raw beans, in particular red and kidney beans, contain the harmful toxin Phytohaemagglutinin which is eliminated while cooking. Please note that undercooked beans may be more toxic than raw beans. Because of this, I advise soaking beans for 24 hours, thus eliminating the gas-generating polymers, then cooking the beans in a pressure cooker. The high temperature for 12 to 18 minutes, is certain to destroy the dangerous toxins.
In some parts of Africa fermentation is used to removing toxins, thus improving the nutritional value of the beans. According to research co-authored by Emire Shimelis of the Food Engineering Program at Addis Ababa University, inexpensive fermentation not only improves the nutritional impact of flour from dry beans, but also improves digestibility. This is very important as beans are a major source of dietary protein in large parts of Africa, including Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Beans have been, and are to this day, an important source of protein throughout the Old and New World. To attest the popularity of this base ingredient in many traditional and modern diets, suffice it to note that over 4,000 different bean cultivars are currently on record in the United States alone. See the Native Seeds / S.E.A.R.C.H. online catalogue to see some of it.
The common bean has been cultivated for thousands of years. The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas dates back to around the second millennium BC and was found at the archaeological site of Guitarrero Cave, in Peru.
Christopher Columbus found that beans were cultiuvated in the Americas while exploring what may have been today's Bahamas, though the variety Vigna, known also as 'eye beans', was already cultivated in Europe. In pre-Columbian times, at least half a dozen kinds of beans of the Phaseolus family were domesticated in the Americas, including:
- Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) grown from Chile to the northern part of what are today the United States.
- Lima and sieva beans (Phaseolus lunatus).
- Teparies (Phaseolus acutifolius).
- Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus).
- Polyanthus beans (Phaseolus polyanthus)
Native American people, from what is today South America to as far north as the Atlantic seaboard, often cultivated beans applying the 'Three Sisters' method, which alternated the cultivation of beans, corn and squash in the same field.
The word 'bean' originally referred to the seed of the broad bean (Vicia Faba, known also as Fava Bean, Field Bean, Bell Bean or Tic Bean, a species of bean (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) native to North Africa and Southwest Asia, which is extensively cultivated elsewhere as well.
Currently though, the meaning has expanded to include other seeds, such as common bean and runner bean, which belong to the genus Phaseolus, and many other related plants such as soybeans, peas, lentils, kidney beans, garbanzos, and lupins.
To further confuse the matter, the word 'beans' is also sometimes used in English for seeds or pods of plants which does not belong to the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family, though they bear a superficial resemblance to true beans, such as coffee beans, castor beans, cocoa beans, and vanilla beans. Additionally, 'beans' may refer to the tender been pods, such as the various types of green beans, which are usually cooked whole.
Types of Beans
There are many bean types, including:
- Viciia Faba or broad bean
- Cicer arietinum or chickpea (also known as the garbanzo bean)
- Pisum sativum or pea
- Lathyrus, or Sweet Pea
- Lathyrus sativus, or Indian pea
- Lathyrus tuberosus , or Tuberous pea
- Lens culinaris or lentil
- Lablab purpureus or hyacinth bean
- Phaseolus acutifolius or tepary bean
- Glycine max or soybean
- Psophocarpus tetragonolobus or winged bean
- Cajanus cajan or pigeon pea
- Stizolobium spp or velvet bean
- Cyamopsis tetragonoloba or guar
- Canavaliaensiformis or jack bean
- gladiata or sword bean
- Macrotyloma M. uniflorum or horse gram
- Lupinus or Lupin
- Erythrina E. herbacea or Coral bean
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