Beans have been a part of our diet since man began to cultivate plants. They
are high in protein
and are less costly to produce than high protein animal products. Many different
varieties are grown all over the world, in gardens and commercially for food;
both for human consumption and for livestock.
here's a teaser. What does the term "Kidney Bean"
convey to you? It seems the answer can be as varied
as the people you ask.
When I was
a little boy - helping my Dadcu (Grandfather) on his
allotment on the old allotments site at Plasgrug in
Aberystwyth, "Kidney Beans" meant what we now all
call "Runner Beans". In fact the two terms were
interchangeable around here. Apparently - from
conversations I've had with old gardeners from the
Ammanford area - they also referred to runner beans
as kidney beans. In fact
Brython Stenner (from
Cefn Cribwr in Glamorgan South Wales) - the famous
developer of the prize-winning Stenner Bean variety
would often refer to them as kidney beans.
the old-fashioned word for French beans, referring
to any variety of haricot or runner beans. Older
allotment holders still refer to any runner beans as
'Kidney' - so you never know quite what you're going
to get! You can grow a wide range of ‘kidney’ beans
in our climate, from stippled ‘Borlotti’ to creamy
‘White Lady’ beans and red ‘Canadian Wonder’. Almost
all are suitable for drying, which is a major
benefit for plot-holders who are short on space.
the term "kidney bean" is most relevant when it
refers to those r reddish-brown kidney-shaped pulses
with a soft, creamy flesh that are available dried
or canned. Dried kidney beans need soaking and
should be cooked carefully because they contain
toxins on the outer skin when raw, which are
rendered harmless by boiling; canned beans need just
draining, rinsing and reheating. They're great in
mixed bean salads and stews such as chilli con
carne. it makes sense because although other beans
resemble a human kidney the red variety
actually have the same colour as well!
There are some golden rules,
some rules of thumb and one warning!
Kidney (or runner, haricot or
French) beans like plenty of nutrients at their
roots. If you can, improve the bed by digging in
homemade compost or well-rotted manure well before
spring. If you’ve left it too late, you can still
improve the ground in spring. Dig a 1-foot trench
right the way along your bean bed. Cover the bottom
of the trench with grass cuttings or shredded
newspaper, to improve moisture retention. Cover this
with a layer of kitchen scraps – vegetable peelings,
coffee grinds and apple cores – then replace the
topsoil. It’s a good idea to put in the climbing
poles at this point too (it can be difficult to put
them in after sowing). Choose tall poles and secure
them firmly, pushing them well into the bed and
tying them together to create the traditional wigwam
or tunnel shape. I'm actually trying the "V" or
inverted "A" frame design this year. I'll keep you
posted on how it goes and provide some photos later
- no time for this edition I'm sorry!
Finally, you’re ready to put
in the seeds. You can buy dozens of different types
of bean. Borlotti is a favourite for its beautiful
pods and beans – and you can try black, blue, or
even purple beans too. Look for types that are
specified as being good for drying. Push them in, 2
or 3 to a pole, and water well. When the seedlings
come up, thin them out to one strong plant per pole.
Keep them watered and check the supports after high
winds. You’ll be picking the beans fresh in
July-August. Drying is best done on the plant; wait
until the beans rattle inside the pods. If heavy
rain or frost is forecast before they’re ready,
bring the pods indoors and spread out in a cool
place to finish drying. Store in an airtight jar, in
a cool place, until ready to cook.
What is a Bean?
All beans are members of the Leguminosae family of plants, commonly
known as legumes, which includes both beans and peas. It is the third largest
family of flowering plants after orchids and daisies. They are natives of four
Asia and of course, our
old friend -
A bean is composed of a seed coat containing an embryonic plant and a pair of
The bean that we eat may not simply be a seed. Some of the vegetables that we
call beans include the seed pod, as well as the seed itself. Runner beans are
From Europe and Southwest Asia
From India and East Asia
From South America
As well as being useful crops, beans come in a variety of colours; pods and
seeds can be yellow, green, red, white, blue or a mixture of colours.
The Nutritional Value of Beans
Beans are a good source of several nutrients, including iron, protein, B
vitamins, folic acid and oil or starch. Beans with coloured shells contain
antioxidants. They are a rich source of fibre, which helps to reduce levels of
LDL cholesterol in blood. Fibre is also known as 'roughage' and is important
because it absorbs water, adds bulk and ensures that wastes pass out of the body
efficiently. If this does not happen several problems can occur including
constipation and diverticular disease.
Soya beans are the stars of the bean world. They are the only beans to
contain all eight amino acids necessary to make a 'complete' protein. They also
contain photoestrogens, which are thought to slow bone loss, reduce the chances
of prostate cancer and heart disease.
Growing Beans at Home
It is simple and satisfying to grow your own beans. They are warm climate
crops, which will nonetheless grow in a temperate climate summer. They can be
grown as pod or snap beans, where one eats seed and pod alike, shell beans,
where the immature bean is eaten, and as dry beans, where the mature seed is
In the Garden
The four key requirements to grow any bean crop are:
soil packed with
The sunnier the summer, the bigger your bean crop. The warmer the
the bigger your bean crop. The more compost that you put into, or on top of,
your soil the bigger your bean crop. The high compost content of the soil
results in good water retention and the soil needs to be moist at all times.
Bean seeds can be bought from seed suppliers, bought from the shops and sown,
or easily collected from your previous season's crop. In areas where frosts last
into the late spring, beans should be sown indoors in small pots or trays in a
warm atmosphere. The seedlings can be planted out once the frosts are over and
when the soil has begun to warm up. In areas without spring frosts, seeds can be
planted directly into the ground where you want them to grow. The soil should be
above 50°F (10°C) as a rule of thumb to avoid rot or poor germination. The
plants should be about six inches apart, but check the instructions on the seed
packet for specifics. Keep the bean patch weeded throughout the growing season,
or keep it well-mulched with something like grass cuttings. Supports for
climbing beans should be put into the ground before the seeds are sown, or
seedlings planted out. Beans do not like to have their roots disturbed.
Many warm or hot climate varieties of bean can be grown successfully in
temperate climates if you use a greenhouse, sunroom or polytunnel. Plant them
into large, deep and well-composted tubs in the full sun. The tubs will need to
be well-drained and placed onto a tray, so that you can monitor water uptake.
There should always be standing water in the tray. Indoor beans may well require
ventilation on very hot or sunny days, to prevent leaf-scorch.
Another method of growing beans indoors is to sprout beans. Just about
all bean varieties can be sprouted. For one volume of beans, add four volumes of
warm water to soak overnight. Drain the beans and place them in a large jar,
covered with a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and secured with a rubber band.
They should be kept in a warm place and rinsed thoroughly with water once or
twice a day. Beans are ready to eat once the sprouts are an inch long.
Types of Bean
Different types of bean are harvested at different stages of their growth.
Shell beans are picked once the pods are firm and crisp, showing the shape
of the bean inside. Pod beans are picked when the seeds in the pod appear
plump and firm. Dry beans are picked once the pod is dried and looks
Pod or Snap Beans
These include runner beans, French beans and winged beans; all of which are
sometimes referred to as string beans because of the stringy fibre that develops
along the seam of the pod if they are overripe. They are also called pole beans
in some countries, due to their climbing nature. Pick pod beans and eat or
preserve immediately. The flesh of the pod deteriorates quickly once they are
harvested and will go limp even in the fridge.
Broad and butter beans are harvested when the seeds are fully formed but
still immature inside the pod. They should be eaten or preserved immediately
These include kidney beans, pinto beans, borlotti beans and many others. They
need a longer growing season than either pod or shell beans to provide time for
the beans to reach full maturity. Once harvested they can be used in the kitchen
straight away, or dried in a warm dry place for storage.
Many bean varieties can be grown as pod or dry beans. For example, soya beans
can be harvested when the pods are just two inches long and eaten whole4,
or left to mature and dried. Borlotti beans, winged beans, runner beans and
French beans are also similarly versatile.
Pod and shell beans should be preserved as soon as possible after they are
picked. Freezing is the most successful method of storage. Blanch the beans in
boiling unsalted water for 30 seconds, plunge them into cold water, drain and
pack into plastic bags and put into the fast freeze compartment of the freezer.
Pod and shell beans can also be salted,
pickled, used in
chutneys and relishes, or cooked in soups and casseroles which can then be
Dry beans should be removed from their pods and placed in a warm, dry place
until they are completely dry. Put them into an airtight container and they will
keep for months until they are required in the kitchen. Be warned that the
longer you keep dry beans, the longer they take to rehydrate later on.
Fresh pod and shell beans are delicious cooked simply, so that their
sweetness can be tasted unadulterated. Steaming preserves more of the taste and
texture. They can be eaten hot, with butter and seasoning, or in a
The first dish of the summer of steamed
Broad beans served with a knob of butter, salt and pepper, is arguably one
of the highlights of the kitchen gardener's year, not least because broad beans
are the first variety to reach maturity.
Beans that are past their best and are a little tough or starchy can be used
casseroles and savoury bakes, where they can be cooked longer to soften them
up. Broad beans that are not quite as fresh and sweet as that first dish can
make a wonderful vegetable dish when steamed and served with a parsley sauce.
Cooking pod and shell beans that have been frozen is easy. Simply defrost
them at room temperature and put them into a pan with a knob of butter, salt and
pepper. Cover the pan and put over a medium heat for five to ten minutes until
the beans are tender. Eat immediately. They do not taste quite as good as fresh
picks, but they will be a lot better than beans that are sold in the vegetable
sections in the supermarket.
Dry beans should be cooked quite differently, even if they have just been
harvested. Fresh dry beans will require at least 30 minutes simmering in
unsalted water or stock before they are edible. Dried dry beans should be soaked
overnight in water to help to rehydrate and soften them. Most will triple in
size, so make sure there is plenty of room in your bowl.
Cook them in a large pan using three times as much water as beans. Boil them
hard for 15 minutes initially, and then simmer gently until they are soft. This
can be between one and two hours, depending upon the variety. Keep the beans
covered with water throughout cooking. Spices, seasoning and stocks can all be
added to the cooking liquid. However, salt should only be added once the beans
are soft, because it can harden the skin of the beans and prevent the insides
An alternative to pan boiling is to use a pressure cooker. Dry beans will
still need to be soaked overnight, but the actual cooking time can be cut to
five to ten minutes, depending upon the type of bean.
Microwave ovens are not suitable for cooking dry beans, because rehydration
and cooking requires long slow simmering. Slow cookers or crock-pots are not
suitable either, because the cooking does not reach a sufficient temperature to
soften the beans properly.
A warning: All dry beans should be soaked overnight, boiled hard for
15 minutes and then simmered until soft. If these simple rules are not followed,
your run the risk of food poisoning, particularly prevalent from poorly cooked
red kidney beans. The beans contain a toxic agent called phytohaemagglutinin, or
lectin. It causes red blood cells to clump together, resulting in nausea,
vomiting and diarrhoea. Recovery is usually spontaneous, although
hospitalisation is sometimes necessary. You have been warned!
Cooked dry beans can be used in a variety of ways; whole, mashed or pureed,
in soups, patties, as a filling for tortillas or as
Baked beans are probably the most popular form of cooked beans,
ubiquitous to the canned vegetable aisles of supermarkets and possibly the
favourite 'vegetable' in Britain. Baked beans are haricot beans coated in tomato
sauce and sometimes supplemented with sausages, bacon or spices. They are a good
source of protein and fibre and also contain potassium, iron, magnesium and
manganese. The tomato sauce is also beneficial, being a source of lycopene, an
Beans and Flatulence
Many people are put off eating beans - particularly dry beans - because of
their reputation for causing intestinal gas. The reason for
flatulence is that most beans cause a sudden increase in bacterial activity
in the intestine, because they contain large quantities of carbohydrates that
human digestive enzymes cannot convert into absorbable sugars. As a result gas
is produced a few hours after bean consumption.
The solution, or at least a partial solution, is to cook dry beans for a long
time. This breaks down much of the unabsorbable carbohydrates into digestible
sugars. Sprouted beans tend to be less gaseous because the carbohydrates are
converted to digestible sugars during germination of the bean.
Beans are a great source of protein. They are a versatile kitchen ingredient.
They are easy to grow. They are cheaper to produce or buy than meat protein
products. They taste great. They look great. Become a bean fan!