It is understandable that anything small, round (like pea shape or similar) and edible, can be called a ‘bean’. But there is more to beans than you may know, so let’s cut to the chase and discern what is a bean, and what is actually ‘a legume’.
The first certified records for the existence of beans in the human diet was back in 6750 B.C by Egyptian sources, but many food historians believe that they go even further back. These beans (and legumes) have not altered much in any way – size, colour, texture and most of all flavour. The good old beans stewing in the pot when hunter-gatherer came home, are virtually the same as they are now!
So, let’s crack the doubt and reveal what is a bean and what is a legume, their similarities and their differences. An important fact to remember, however, is that both beans and legumes are very healthy additions to your diet. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter – including them in your food regime does. Put simply (I hope!)
Beans are the produce or ‘seeds’ that grow inside a plant of many different varieties.
Legumes are the plants that bear the fruit contained within pods. So technically, they are, of course, exactly the same family with the legume being the plant ‘host’ to the ‘fruit’ inside, the beans.
Got it? I hope so, it can be confusing to say the least. You may be thinking, ‘let’s just eat beans/legumes, who cares!
Beans varieties as we know them
The most common beans likely to adorn your soups, casseroles and other dishes and readily available in supermarkets, dried or canned, are:
- Cannellini Beans (white beans)
- Fava Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Lima Beans
- Mung Beans
- Navy Beans (Haricot beans)
- Pinto Beans
- Black Beans
- Garbanzo Beans
- Soy Beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Adzuki Beans
- Edamame Beans
- Borlotti Beans (Cranberry Beans)
Some of these, such as Edamame, will grace many a salad, as will chickpeas, but most beans can be used for cooking and for cold dishes. As a staple dish, I would highly recommend keeping a small selection of them in your store cupboard, as you can knock up a healthy and filling dish in no time.
Ready to make soup?
So, just checking again, have you got it?! I hope I do not confuse you more by telling you that peanuts are also a type of bean! For many years, I thought they were a nut!
There are over 400 types of beans in the world! Some of these I would say are a duplication and are simply known by a different name in various parts of the world. Most beans you can mix with vegetables just before they are no longer fresh and magically a nourishing and flavourful soup or stew can appear.
Know how to cook beans?
Sometimes canned beans just make life simpler, particularly if you are in a hurry. You can also tell how many you must allot for each person, simply by looking in the can.
If you can bear the thought of it, buy dried beans in bulk, it is so economical and they will last for around a year in your cupboard, as long as you store them in an airtight container. I always soak my beans overnight, but if I need to speed up, I will soak them in hot water for one hour. Apparently, if you have an electric pressure cooker, you can make a quantity of creamy, tender beans with a lovely flavour, but honestly, I have never tried it – somehow to me using an advance piece of machinery takes away the joy of getting down and dirty with my beans!
Why soak beans?
Well, basically it is to remove some of the starch that can lead to a very upset tummy – so best to follow the advice. As a guideline (and it is a little vague) one cup of dried beans will produce 2-3 cups of cooked beans, but it depends on the size of the bean! They only way to get it right, is to do it time and time again with different beans. You will soon get the hang of it.
Without getting too far into the nutritional nitty-gritty of why beans are good for you, let’s just make it simple. Beans are a versatile way of getting most of the nutrition you need. High in protein, fibre, vitamins abound, they do also contain a fair amount of carbs.
Whilst certain beans are more commonly used in x, y and z recipes, beans are so adaptable, that more or less anything goes, so you should not have any culinary disasters.
Step away from the plate once in a while, come out of your comfort zone, and try new things such as Chickpea Fritters or Burgers, Bean and Pesto Mash (better than potatoes are for you), Bean Crostinis, Herby Bean Bread, Bean Flatbreads – the choice is pretty amazing. Don’t forget that the easiest meal to make to add your beans to crockpot and give them a slow cook.
Enjoy your beans – if you know of any great but unique bean recipes, let me know!
Ready to make soup?
Originally published July 8, 2021