Perhaps the chickpea is today the most popular and consumed legume, revitalized through new trends with its flour and varieties of hummus, but beans win by a landslide in terms of disparity of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. A staple food for millions of people around the world, today almost lost ancestral local varieties are being recovered, and great chefs claim their elegance and finesse in the kitchen.
The wealth of terms by which this humble food is known already gives us a sample of its enormous gastronomic potential and of the historical, cultural and social importance that this legume has had and still has in very different countries. Kidney beans, beans, fabas, beans, beans … beans are the stars of countless traditional dishes one of those that taste like a town, like grandmother’s kitchen, adding vegetable proteins to humble stews, pots and rice dishes. But we also find them transformed into sweet recipes, fine creams, fresh salads or a multitude of vegetarian dishes that they have little to envy their versions with meat.
What are beans?
The bean is a plant that belongs, like all legumes, to the family of the Fabaceae or Leguminosae. In agriculture and food there is talk of legumes, considering that they are those dried seeds extracted from a vanto. Theoretically, the varieties of fresh and tender consumption are not included within legumes, as is the case with beans and peas, although some younger and milder beans are halfway there, such as verdinas.
They are herbaceous, annual and climbing plants, whose fruits are shaped like an elongated pod whose interior keeps between four and six seeds, the legume itself used for consumption. These can be of very varied colors, shapes and sizes, generally kidney-shaped or rounded, and smooth skin when fresh.
Beans are both those from the genus Phaseolus (originating in America), like those of the genus Vigna (Asian), to which they belong, for example, the mungo or the azuki.
Origin, evolution and current cultivation
Beans are the most widespread legume on the planet, with varieties being found in practically all countries. It is believed that its most remote origin as a domesticated vegetable would go back to the Bronze Age of present-day Peru, although more recent discoveries suggest that our ancestors may have already grown and consumed beans in the area of Mexico. more than 7000 years ago.
In Asia, traces of the cultivation of beans have been found in the Indus Valley dating back to 3300 BC, and we know that this legume was already known in the Iberian Peninsula before landing in America, because the word bean comes from the Hispanic Arabic allúbya, and this in turn from Persian, although they did not enjoy great popularity.
As we say, its cultivation and production is now spread throughout the planet, with infinity of local and autochthonous varieties that have been of vital importance for many populations, such as in certain American communities or also in Spain. In our country, for example, they have a greater tradition in the north of the peninsula, clearly imposing themselves on other legumes such as lentils.
According to 2018 data from the Ministry of Agriculture, the production of pulses in general has been increasing throughout the EU in recent years, data that is also reflected in consumption. In 2017 the European historical maximum was reached, with more than 600 ml tons cultivated, highlighting the production of Lithuania, Ireland and Poland. In Spain, where most dried beans are grown is in Castile and León and Galicia, while in Andalusia the production of broad beans stands out.
Main and types and varieties
- White. Of the most popular in Spain, there are many varieties according to their size and shape: plancheta, kidney, rice, etc. In Spain there are many that enjoy special recognition and their own name, from the great Asturian beans and the huge beans from La Granja, to the Valencian garrofó, the Catalan mongetes or the beans from La Bañeza.
- Pints or red. The color of the pints can present different shades depending on the specific variety, usually showing an intense and bright mahogany tone when they are dry. Their texture is somewhat mealy and they are perfect for stews and soups, such as the classic ones with chorizo in Spain or chilis, feijoadas and Creole dishes. In our country those of Gernika stand out. Sometimes veined beans are sometimes called pinto beans, such as the borlotti.
- Cinnamon. Almost a variety of red bean, but with a lighter tone and a medium size, with a fine skin and a very soft texture, appreciated for its homogeneity and relatively quick cooking.
- Black. Very popular in Mexican and Caribbean cuisine, with a sweet and very intense flavor, appreciated above all for how they enrich broths, stews, enchiladas and salads. In Spain, the Tolosa bean shines with its own light, of medium size and great meatiness.
- Verdinas. They are white beans but harvested before fully ripening and drying, when they still have a greenish color and a much more tender and fine texture. Very popular in Asturias, but also extended to other northern territories such as Galicia.
- Pochas. Another variety of fresh, greenish and very soft white beans, very typical in Navarra.
- Veneers. Your name in English, black Eyed Peas, also perfectly describes their appearance, as they are white with a rounded mark that resembles an eye. Small and fine, they are very versatile and exquisite, highly appreciated in Asian countries and also in the southern kitchen of the United States.
- Adzuki. Small reddish and shiny bean highly appreciated in Japan and China, where it is used to make anko sweet pasta and other sweetish preparations, as it has a buttery texture and a sweet flavor that makes it ideal for desserts.
- Mungo. Mung beans are typical of Asia and there are different types and colors, highlighting the green, black and red varieties. Small and rounded, they stand out for their high protein content, mild flavor and quick cooking, which rarely needs pre-soaking.
Nutritional properties and benefits of beans
Beans, like all legumes, are a food nutritionally very complete and healthy, with benefits for all ages and perfectly compatible, and more than recommended, also in weight control diets.
They are a good source of energy thanks to their content of complex carbohydrates, very rich in fiber and resistant starch, which provide satiety and prebiotic effects in the body. However, they are not very caloric, since in general they hardly provide less than 100 kcal per 100 g of cooked beans, a content much lower than cereals and grains.
They also stand out above these in terms of their contribution of vegetable proteins, especially the black varieties, with up to 25% of this nutrient on their total weight. It is true that they do not include all the essential amino acids (methionine and cystine), but their consumption within a varied and balanced diet perfectly supplements this deficit, complementing it throughout the day with other foods.
They are low in fat, have no cholesterol or gluten, are low in sodium, and provide a large amount of essential vitamins and minerals, in addition to polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. When consumed cooked and almost always rehydrated, its volume can triple, making it a low calorie density food, but packed with nutrients.
How to cook them and in which recipes to use them
Dried beans offer a long shelf life in the pantry, stored in a cool, dry place away from sunlight or heat sources. Despite this, it is recommended consume them in the same year of their collection, as they are much tastier and tender, with a smoother skin that does not come off as much during cooking. In addition, they can be frozen raw, preferably in vacuum bags.
Depending on the type of bean and its age, this legume requires a previous soak to hydrate them and facilitate cooking, also helping with subsequent digestion. To do this, they can be previously washed with cold water, and then leave them covered with plenty of cold water, taking into account that they can increase a lot in volume. Ideally, you should have them at least eight hours (overnight), although the larger ones may need up to a full 12-14 hours.
Some people prefer to cook them with the same soaking water, which will have taken on nutrients, flavor and color, although they can also be cooked drained with clean water. The beans they are cooked from cold water, alone or with vegetables, sausages or different aromatics, bringing them to a boil. The usual process is to maintain a constant and smooth power, skimming from time to time, until they are at the desired point.
According to the recipe, they can be precooked first to make a separate sauce, soup, broth or stew, adding them in the last part of the preparation, or you can start the pot with almost all ingredients at once from the beginning, integrating them successively according to the times they require. It is preferable not to salt the stew until the end so as not to harden them.
The final time will depend on the type of bean and the specific preparation, as well as the taste of each one. So that the skin does not break, it is recommended do not stir the beans during cooking directly with a ladle, but gently shake the pot from the handles. Popular lore is to “scare” them by cutting the boil two or three times with cold water at first, although it has not been proven that this actually works for best results.
With beans you can make all kinds of pots, stews, stews, pots and stews, as well as being added to rice and soups. Cooked more al dente they are perfect for salads or to combine with vegetables and cereals, also to make fillings (vegetarian or not) with different sauces and accompaniments. They can be mashed to make hummus-like creams, purees and spreads, or mashed for hamburger or meatball-type preparations.
Different recipes to enjoy beans at home
Rice or rice beans stewed with vegetables
We heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan and poach the cloves of …