Dry beans have been used as a staple of diet across the globe for centuries. In the U.S., beans are most popular in the Southern and Western regions. Dietary experts recommend people consume three cups of beans a week. Beans are nutrient-dense and the proportion of nutrients per calorie is high. Some studies have linked the consumption of beans to longevity. With the exception of soybeans and garbanzos, beans have virtually no fat and the fat in garbanzos and soybeans is unsaturated. Beans are a good source of soluble fiber, similar to oats and barley, which helps lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar levels normal. They are rich in phytochemicals and lignans, which may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers. The flavonoids in beans may help reduce heart disease and cancer risk. Dried beans also contain phytosterols, which may help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Sixty to 65% of the calories in dry beans are from carbohydrates, predominantly in the form resistant starch, and small amounts of non-starch polysaccharides. Dry beans also have a low glycemic index.
Why This Matters:
There are mixed opinions around how much protein humans should consume for optimal health and how beans should fit into everyday diets. Because animal protein provides all the amino acids the human body needs, beans are not necessary for their protein content. However, for vegans and some vegetarians, the consumption of animal protein is not acceptable so they turn to a combination of beans and grains to provide complete proteins.
On the other hand, advocates of the Paleo diet forbid the consumption of beans altogether due to their inherent anti-nutrients if not cooked correctly. Store staff would be wise to read further about the Paleo philosophy since it is a hot trend. The information in this lesson is based on decades of accepted nutritional science and diet philosophies.
Although beans provide protein, they don't contain all the essential amino acids humans need in their diet. One of the ways vegetarians and vegans are able to consume the right group of amino acids for complete protein is to combine complementary partial-protein beans with complementary grains. Both are rich in partial proteins, but they each lack one or more of the necessary amino acids. Combining beans with brown rice, corn, or wheat can form a complete protein. Nuts and seeds can also be combined with beans to form complete proteins.
Canned or Dried?
In general, dried and canned beans are nutritionally similar. Canned beans offer convenience. Canned beans are usually higher in sodium and slightly lower in nutrients. Canned beans can have added ingredients such as calcium chloride, animal fat (particularly in refried beans), and sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
Cans are also known to be lined with bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical that is used to make plastics and resins. BPA can seep into food in the containers, which risks exposure to humans that could contribute to brain and behavior problems, and negative effects on the prostate gland of fetuses, infants, and children. As a result, it is often recommended that customers look for BPA-free cans or use alternatives, like beans that are dried.
Dried beans, on the other hand, are inexpensive, store for a long period, have less packaging waste, have more nutrients than canned beans when subjected to a long soak, can be cooked up in a larger batch with extra to freeze, and will take on flavor as they cook. But they do require a few extra steps over a longer period of prep time which usually merits pre-planning.
Aside from the pre-planning and length of prep time, many people avoid eating beans or eat beans only from cans due to the intestinal gasses they experience. Humans are missing an enzyme required to break down the raffinose sugars found in beans. The bacteria in people's gut feast on these sugars, giving off hydrogen and carbon dioxide and causing intestinal gas. Some people choose to use products such as Beano, an enzyme alpha-galactosidase that is needed to digest beans. The good news is that double-blind research has shown the use of Beano and similar alpha-galactosidase products actually work and reduce the amount and discomfort from eating beans.
How to Cook Dried Beans
Why This Matters:
Customers often talk to natural food store staff about their health including the reasons they avoid eating beans. Knowledge of the cause for uncomfortable gas from beans and the ways that the gas can be greatly reduced or eliminated is very helpful to customers and may prompt them to purchase and prepare more bean dishes.
There are many ways that dried beans can be cooked to reduce the quantity of the offending raffinose carbohydrates.
- Most dried beans should be soaked before they are cooked. The longer soak time, the more nutrients will be released into the bean and make the beans more digestible. Salt can be added to this soaking water to help make the bean skins softer and more permeable.
- To reduce the gas-causing sugars, mix 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda into the soaking water, or add kombu seaweed, or epazote. These additives help leach out the raffinose sugars. An alternative is soaking the beans for 8-10 hours in water with a spoonful of vinegar to create the beginning of natural fermentation, which will reduce the raffinose sugars.
- Pour off in the water in which they had been soaked before the beans are cooked. It is loaded with those gas causing raffinose sugars. Make sure that the beans are thoroughly rinsed and that fresh water or stock is used to cook them. Add a small amount of salt to continue softening the skins, then simmer for a sufficient number of hours until they are fully cooked, usually in the range of four to eight hours. An alternative method that will greatly reduce cooking time is to cook them in a pressure cooker. Most pre-soaked beans will cook within an hour in a pressure cooker. Beans are done to perfection when you can easily smash one between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
- Once cooked, beans can be stored in the refrigerator for a week. They can also be stored in the freezer in 8 - 16 oz. containers without the cooking liquid until they are ready to use in future recipes.
Ways to Use Beans
There are many ways to add legumes into a person's diet including using them for soups and dips, adding them to green salads, or making salads where the beans are the main ingredient. Beans, like grains, can be sprouted. Refried beans are used in tortillas and other Mexican dishes. They can be included in pasta sauces or baked and added to grain bowls. Beans can also be added to smoothies and made into sweet desserts. And some beans can be made into flour - such as Chickpea Flour, which is a staple in Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi foods. Other bean flours include broad bean, white bean, black bean, fava bean, green pea, and soybean flours
Types of Beans
The words beans and legumes are often used interchangeably. But there are differences. Beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans. Confused? A legume is a plant with a fruit that grows in the form of a pod. Legumes include peas, beans, and peanuts; and also alfalfa, clover, lentils, carob, and tamarind. In many cases, the pods are not eaten. Beans are a certain variety of legumes that include snap beans, pole beans, yellow wax beans, lima beans, shell beans (like black beans and navy beans) chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and many more.
Adzuki – Small, maroon beans native to Japan and China, Adzuki beans are now also grown domestically. Adzuki beans are easier to digest because they contain fewer raffinose sugars and are a staple of macrobiotics’ diet, who consider them Yang or warming, good for both their nutrition and healing properties. They are a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and B vitamins. They are low in calories and fat, but high in nutrition. Adzuki beans are traditionally considered healthful for the kidneys. They are quick cooking, no soaking is needed, and they have a slightly sweet taste similar to kidney beans. In fact, they are an excellent option to swap for any recipe that calls for kidney beans. In Asian cooking, adzukis are mashed into a sweet paste that is used as a filling in popular Asian deserts. They are also good mixed with small grains such as quinoa and millet in stews and casseroles.
Anasazi – Anasazi comes from the Navaho word meaning “ancient ones” and are sometimes called Appaloosa beans due to their coloring. They are related to the pinto bean, but have less gas producing properties, and popular in the Southwest because of their full flavor and ability to hold their shape. They are best when soaked before cooking. They are low in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol; and a good source of iron, potassium, and folate. They can be used in place of pinto beans in southwest and Tex-Mex dishes, are a good base for refried beans and added to chili and hearty stews.
Baby Lima Beans – There are two distinct species of lima beans - baby lima and the larger lima beans known as butter beans. Baby lima beans are more delicate in flavor, about half the size of butterbeans. They are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber and provide 188% of the daily requirement for trace mineral molybdenum, which detoxifies sulfites in the body. Lima beans should never be eaten raw as they contain a cyanide compound that is only deactivated by cooking. They are good in soups and stews or simply cooked with herbs and spices and eaten as a side dish.
Black Beans - Sometimes called black turtle beans, are mild, earthy beans used in classic Latin American, Caribbean, and Southwestern soup, stews, and sauce recipes. They can also be made into refried beans and hummus and can replace pinto beans in any recipe. They are native to Mexico and a member of the kidney bean family. The dark skin of these beans provide anthocyanins, the same antioxidant compound in dark red fruits, making black beans the most antioxidant-rich of all the legumes. They are also rich in folate and magnesium, both essential for heart health.
Black Eyed Beans – Also known as Black Eyed Peas and Cow Peas, these legumes are among the oldest legumes, coming to America via slave traders from Africa where they originated. They cook rapidly when dried and can also be cooked when fresh-picked. Loaded with nutrients especially minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, folate, and iron, these beans are traditionally found in Hoppin' John, a traditional southern dish, and are cooked in the south on New Year's Day with a dime in the pot and then served with collard greens and cornbread to represent money and gold.
Cannellini – These large white beans with a firm texture and nutty flavor are popular in Italian food and used in soups such as minestrone, salads, stews, and numerous other dishes. Another relative of the kidney bean, cannellini beans should never be eaten raw; they should always be cooked to eliminate toxic lectins and to bring out their nutritional qualities. Cannellini are leaders among low glycemic beans and also have a high amount of molybdenum, along with copper and plant proteins.
Cranberry – Cranberry beans are ivory colored with red markings that disappear during cooking. The plants are especially pretty due to the red and ivory markings on the pods. In New England, cranberry beans are also referred to as shell beans. These beans are higher in protein and folate than many others, are a fiber all-star and contain many key minerals including zinc, potassium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. They can be served hot with butter or olive oil, and are particularly good at room temperature as a side salad dish dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. In Mediterranean cooking, they are especially popular for antipasto.
Why This Matters:
Fava beans are among some foods that can cause allergic or indigestion reactions. Store staff should be aware of these limitations so they can properly and accurately advise customers when they are asked.
Fava – One of the oldest legumes popular throughout Europe and South America, these large brown beans similar in shape to lima beans are also known as broad beans in the UK. They are very high in protein, along with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They are also rich in phytonutrients including isoflavone and plant-sterols. Favas even contain L-dopa, a precursor to dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for regulating mood and libido. However, ingestion of fava beans by some individuals with the hereditary glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency can cause a disorder known as favism, which can result in hemolytic anemia and kidney failure. In Egypt and most Arab countries, favas are cooked, then puréed or mashed and served with olive oil, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, onions, and cumin in a breakfast dish called ful medames. In many Latin American countries such as Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, they are often fried or dried, then salted to create a crunchy street-food snack. In the Sichuan province of China, favas are combined with soybeans and chili peppers in a fermented bean paste called doubanjiang.
Garbanzo – also known as chickpeas, is one of the most nutritious of all legumes and is considered beneficial for the heart. Most garbanzos sold in the US are a creamy beige color, but other varieties can be found in black, green, red, and brown. Garbanzo beans have a longer cooking time than other beans and a distinctive nutty flavor. They are very versatile and can be used in many dishes from soups to salads and are both recommended and considered a staple item for all home cooks. They are used in many Middle Eastern dishes including hummus and falafel, both popular in natural food supermarkets. Garbanzos are also ground as flour, used in Indian foods and can be used as an egg substitute, especially beneficial for vegans. The beans are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber and a good source of protein, especially when combined with whole grains which will yield as much protein as that of meat or dairy foods without the high calories or saturated fats. They have a low glycemic index and can help lower LDL due to the folate and magnesium. Garbanzo beans also contain saponins, which act as antioxidants.
Great Northern – Smaller than cannellinis, these white beans look like a white baby lima bean and are slightly grainy, with a nutty, dense flavor. They are suitable for many uses including salads, soups, stews, ragouts, purees, and spreads. A member of the kidney bean family, great northern are full of fiber and packed with 15 grams of protein per serving. As with many legume varieties, they are also rich in iron and folate.
Kidney – There are many different types of kidney beans. In the U.S., dark or light red kidney beans are the most popular but other, lesser-known varieties include speckled, black and white kidney beans. These beans hold their shape and color well during cooking and are most often found in Southwest foods and chili. They are also good in salads. Along with key nutrients such as protein, fiber, folate, magnesium, and potassium, kidney beans have been studied to show their protection against heart disease and aging benefits. In part due to their red skin, red kidney beans are richer in flavonoids, particularly proanthocyanidins (condensed tannins), than blueberries and cranberries. Red beans, a small member of the kidney bean family, contain similar nutrients and may be used in any recipe calling for kidney beans. They are most widely known as one of the main ingredients of the traditional New Orleans dish “Red Beans & Rice.”
Large Lima – Large lima beans, also called Butter Beans (although butter beans are smaller in shape than limas), are named after the capital of Peru. Popular in South America, lima beans are the main legume crop in tropical Africa as they do not grow well in cold climates. They are sometimes available fresh during the late summer and fall and dried year-round. They contain more starch than other beans and are very high in molybdenum, a trace mineral that may help those who are sensitive to sulfites. They are also very high in fiber. Lima beans and corn are the two main ingredients of succotash, traditional Southern fare, and are used in soups and other hot and cold salads and side dishes.
Mung – Small round light green bean, mung beans are native to India but are also popular in Chinese cooking. They can be purchased whole or split and hulled. They are delicate and slightly sweet in flavor and range in color from green to yellow to black. In Indian cuisine, cooked yellow mung beans are known as moong dhal. A complete meal is often moong dhal paired with basmati rice, vegetables, and Indian roti (bread). Mung bean flour is also widely used in India for breads and pastries. In the U. S., mung beans are probably best known for their traditional bean sprouts which are most frequently used in Asian dishes and salads. Mung beans may also be made into pasta, which looks like, and is referred to, as cellophane noodles. Unlike many other legumes, mung beans do not need to be pre-soaked. They cook quickly, especially the yellow split variety. Around the world, they are revered as a healing food, especially when sprouted. When sprouted, they contain Vitamin C, which the bean does not contain on its own. They are also rich in protein, folic acid, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamine. They are high in fiber, low in fat and sodium, and contain no cholesterol. Their nutritional profile offers support for the immune system, metabolism, cardiovascular health, antioxidant benefits, and protection against cancer and diabetes.
Navy – are small, oval, white members of the kidney bean family that cook relatively quickly. Known as Boston beans in some areas of the country, Navy beans are perfect for dishes such as purees, soups, stews, and baked beans. They are mild-flavored, dense and smooth, and have similar cholesterol-lowering fiber, and significant amounts of folate, magnesium, and iron. They can be smashed into a spread or dip, added to soups, and served as a bruschetta when combined with olive oil, sage, and garlic. They can also be part of the main meal combined with grains & vegetables for complete protein or added to warm or cold salads.
Orca – These black and white heirloom beans originate from Mexico. They are also commonly called calypso or yin yang beans. They are a fairly rare variety (but can be found among Bob's Red Mill items) and are often paired with corn or other traditional Mexican ingredients. During the cooking process, the black color lightens and turns to a reddish-brown color. Their mottled coloration makes them an interesting visual feature of any dish. They can be substituted for kidney or cannellini beans in almost any recipe. They are good sources of fiber and iron.
Pink – These small, oval-shaped beans have pale, pink skin. Pink beans are very popular in Caribbean countries. They are used to make “Caribbean Pink Beans”, a dish with no added fat and flavored with sofrito, a mixture of tomatoes, bell pepper, onions, and garlic. Pink beans are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins A, B1, B, and C, folate, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorous, and potassium.
Pinto – Medium-sized, oval-shaped beans with mottled beige and brown skin, the pinto bean in Spanish is frijol pinto or "painted bean". A member of the kidney bean family, it is the most common bean in the U.S. and northwestern Mexico, and is most often eaten whole in soups and chili, or mashed and refried. Like cranberry beans, pinto beans lose their mottled appearance when cooked and turn a pinkish brown color. Similar to other beans, pinto beans are very high in fiber, protein, minerals, and other phytonutrients and low in fat and sodium.
Green Peas – Sometimes called garden or sweet peas, these legumes come from bright green pods grown on a vine. The pods are harvested just short of maturity, when their seeds (the peas) are soft, sweet, and can be eaten in their raw form. Snow peas and sugar snap peas are different species of peas where the entire whole, immature green pod, including the other shell, is eaten as a vegetable. Green peas are rich in health phytonutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants and are lower in calories in comparison with other beans. Fresh green peas are also very high in Vitamin C and phytosterols, especially B-sitosterol, a plant sterol that helps lower cholesterol levels in the body. Green peas are a winter crop and complement many other vegetables including carrots, potatoes, and onions, and are often served as a side dish. They are often added to soups and are a common ingredient in seasonal winter dishes in the Indian-subcontinent.
Split Peas – Split peas, sometimes called shell peas, are a different type of plant than green, sweet peas. Split peas, which come in green or yellow varieties, are the product of garden or English peas. The pods are not edible and the peas are harvested when they are fully mature, removed from the pods, dried, and used like beans. They are quick-cooking and do not require soaking. Split peas are full of soluble fiber and contain no cholesterol. They also contain protein, two B-vitamins, several important minerals, and isoflavones which are helpful in reducing the risk of cancer. Split peas also provide almost twice the daily recommended amount of molybdenum, which helps to detoxify sulfites. Split peas are most often found in soup, in spreads for appetizers, and are often found in vegetarian Indian dhal, a low fat low-calorie thick soup usually served with rice.
Lentils – Disk-shaped seeds of a pea-like plant originally cultivated in the “fertile crescent” between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers more than 8,000 years ago, lentils are found in yellow, orange, green, brown, black, and French varieties. Red lentils are actually orange in color and are very quick cooking. Brown lentils are greenish-brown and take about 45 minutes to 1 hour to cook. Both are low in raffinose sugars and do not require soaking. Lentils are packed with folate, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, low in calories and high in nutrition. Lentils are often used as the basis for soups and are also used in vegetarian burgers and “meat” loaves.
Why This Matters:
Natural food stores are known for their pure peanut butter freshly ground in the store in a gravity-fed nut grinder. This type of peanut butter is nothing but peanuts, produced in a chunky spread. Customers who do not want additives to peanut butter or don’t want separated peanut butter in pre-packed jars are well served by buying the bulk ground peanut butter. Buying freshly ground peanut butter also allows the customer to buy exactly the quantity they want.
Peanuts are legumes, even though they are incorrectly called nuts. Unlike other plants, the peanut flowers above the ground, but the fruits (nuts) grow below ground, in a growing cycle that takes about four to six months. Peanuts and peanut butter (ground peanuts) are an excellent source of protein, important minerals, and vitamins including Vitamin E, Folate, Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin, and Vitamin B6. They have zero cholesterol and a 1-ounce serving contains 62.4 mg of phytosterols.
Peanuts account for two-thirds of all snack nuts consumed in the US, and peanut butter is the leading use of peanuts in the US having been a staple in American households for decades. Peanuts are widely used in Thai and Indian foods, can be added to stir-fries, rice dishes, and salads, and are found in many desserts and candy bars. Peanut oil is used most often for tempura, stir-fries, and Asian dishes. The oil's tolerance for heat can vary widely, and it is not conducive to high heat.
Peanuts are most often sold in their roasted form, in shells or shelled. Both shelled and unshelled peanuts can be salted. Unshelled peanuts are often flavored by adding additional ingredients that adhere to the nut during the manufactured (e.g., honey roasted, chocolate-covered). In the South, boiled peanuts are popular. Raw peanuts are soaked and boiled in salted water for four hours. Boiled peanuts will have the consistency of a cooked bean, holding its shape, but not the crunch. Peanuts are most often roasted with oil or dry roasted, which eliminates fats added to the product during manufacturing and packaging. Peanut butters typically are sold in smooth and crunchy varieties.
Many people are allergic to peanuts, especially children. In fact, even the smallest contact with peanuts by one who has a peanut allergy can trigger anaphylaxis. Since peanuts are most often processed in the same plant as other nuts, disclosure of possible exposure to peanut residues is now required on packages.
A note about Green Beans – Green beans are the young, immature pods of bean plants that are considered a green vegetable, not a bean or legume.