According to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, a bean is 1) an edible seed, typically kidney-shaped, growing in long pods on certain leguminous plants. 1.1) the hard seed of coffee, cocoa, and certain other plants. 2) a leguminous plant that bears beans in pods. 3) a very small amount or nothing at all of something (used emphatically) e.g. “there is not a single bean of substance in the report” or “I didn’t know beans about being a step-parent.” 3.1) used in reference to money e.g. “he didn’t have a bean.” and 4) a person’s head, especially when regarded as a source of common sense e.g. “this morning the old bean seems to be functioning in a slow way.”
From the point of view of a gardener, I, of course, am more interested in definitions 1 and 2. More specifically, I’m referring to those edible podded and/or seeded plants of family Fabaceae and all its associated genera. Here in the US, we mostly consume Vicia faba (broad bean or fava bean) and Phaseolus vulgaris (common bean, which includes the pinto bean, kidney bean, black bean, Appaloosa bean as well as green beans, and many others).
Beans have been eaten since time immemorial as they are a nutrient powerhouse that costs little to produce, raise, and store. They are an excellent source of fiber, they aid in digestion, they can regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol, excellent sources of heart-necessary minerals potassium and magnesium, help you maintain a healthy weight, high in iron, high in B vitamins, and rich in the antioxidants that neutralize the free radicals that can cause cancer. They are indeed a wonderful food that should be grown in every garden and a part of every diet.
And like many other vegetables, there are hundreds of different cultivars that you probably haven’t tried yet. So why not plant some next year? Try a cultivar such as Royal Burgundy which produces colorful purple pods that can be eaten like green beans. Or make your own baked beans using a dry shelling variety such as Vermont Appaloosa, or Yin Yang (yes the beans really do look like the yin-yang symbol). Or why not get really crazy and try a runner bean such as Thai Purple Podded or Chinese Mosaic. These will not only add flavor to your meals, but can also add color to your garden and make it aesthetically pleasing as well as practical.
Of course, I can’t talk about beans without bringing up the gas they produce. Beans contain the sugars stachyose, raffinose, and verbascose, which are bodies are unable to digest. When they reach our colon, the bacteria there begin to ferment them, which produces the gas. However, there are ways of negating this.
- Eat fruit or sugar foods 2 – 3 hours away from a meal with beans.
- Only eat one protein in the same meal, as each protein requires a specific type and strength of digestive juices.
- Potatoes conflict with digestion of the beans, so avoid eating them in the same meal.
- Eat a whole grain with beans to complement them.
- In Japan and Far East Asia they add a piece of seaweed (Kombu or Wakame) after the beans as it makes the beans more digestible, more nutritious and tastes great!
- Use digestive spices — in India they cook ginger, turmeric and sometimes fennel and asafetida, with beans to make them more digestible.
- Chew and savor your beans! Beans and grains are foods with which the digestion starts in the mouth. Savor bean soup in the mouth before swallowing to begin the process of digestion.
- Start with mung beans, aduki and dhal as they are easy to digest because they are low in the complex sugars that are not easily broken down by the human digestive enzymes. Even invalids can digest these ones.
And if all else fails, then do what Ben Franklin suggested in one of his essays. Fart proudly!