Beans

Hi, thanks for coming over. We didn’t think you would – people have all the wrong ideas about us beans. Some say that ‘beans means f_ _ts’ but that isn’t really fair, you know it’s the dog – it’s always the dog!

Despite being the butt of jokes we’re actually very tasty and so nutritious no one can afford to exclude us from their diet. Our family has many different types of beans, all of them producing long, narrow pods containing seeds which are more or less kidney-shaped. We grow on rounded bushes (bush beans) which support themselves or on climbing plants (climbing or pole beans) which need support from trellises or poles.

We can be eaten as:

  • Young pods that are soft and crisp
  • Immature seeds which have been removed from the pod
  • Mature seeds which are hard and known as dried beans

Availability

In Australia we’re available all year round, depending on our variety.


Did you know?

  • The bean is an immature pod.

Varieties

Green or common beans

We’re the most commonly available bean and are eaten fresh when our pod is so young it can be snapped crisply in half and our kidney-shaped, very pale green seeds are soft.

Our pods, which have a felt-like texture, are up to 10-20cm long and 0.5-1cm wide, and straight or slightly curved with a fine point at one end. They can be round or oval like a piece of fat string or flat like a strap. Those of us with green pods are the most common, but some can be pale yellow or purple.

Green beans can be either stringed or stringless, stringless being the most popular with humans. Stringed beans have a long, green, cotton-like thread or ‘string’ along the length of the pod. The ‘string’ is best removed before you eat us. Green beans are sold by colour, by shape and whether they are stringed or stringless.

Our main varieties are Larador, Branco and Matadore. We’re available all year round but at our best value and quality from March to July and September to October.


Italian Flat Beans
We’re another large variety of bean with flat, pale green pods which are up to 20cm long and 2cm wide. Our pod is picked at the crisp snapping stage and our seeds are immature and soft. Both our pod and seeds are eaten.

Borlotti Beans
We’re a larger variety with pods measuring up to 15cm long and 1.5cm wide. Our pod contains beautiful reddish-brown multicoloured seeds. We’re eaten either as soft immature seeds removed from the pod or as hard dried seeds when our pod and seeds are allowed to ripen on the plant.


Broad Beans (or Lima)
Our parent is a large, upright, bushy plant which can grow to about 1 metre. Our pods can be picked at several stages. Firstly, we can be harvested when we’re small and can be snapped crisply in half. In which case we’re eaten like young green beans.

Secondly, we can be allowed to grow larger but our seeds are still soft. Our immature seeds are removed from the pod for eating. Finally, we can be grown until we’re fully matured and our seeds have dried. In this last case our seeds are used as dried beans and are called Lima Beans.

Each pod is glossy green with short fuzzy hair, and is round, long and thin with a distinctly pointed end. Our pod has a firm, pliable skin and contains 4-8 of us – we’re light green to white, rounded and kidney-shaped. Each of us can be up to 2cm long and our pods can be as large as 50cm long and 2-3cm wide.


Butter Beans
We’ve a similar shape to regular green beans, but are cream to very pale yellow in colour.

Snake Beans
Our parent plant is a vigorous climber which will sprawl and climb over anything in its way. Our pods are very, very long and skinny, which hang down from the plant. We’re picked when we are immature. This is when our pod can be snapped crisply in half and our seeds are still soft – the same stage at which green beans are eaten.

Our pod is olive green, round, up to 90cm long and very thin, being only 5-8mm wide. Looking like long pieces of skinny green rope our two names, snake bean or yard-long bean, describe us quite accurately. We’re popular in Asian cooking where our pods are picked when young and used like a fresh green bean. We’re not sold by variety.

Why Beans Are Good To Eat

  • Unlike fruits, that become sweeter the longer they stay on the tree or bush, we are sweetest when we’re young. If you leave us until we’re really old, we wither and although you can still dry our seeds to use as a legume, we’re best eaten fresh, young, green and sweet
  • We’re a good source of fibre
  • We’re rich in vitamin C
  • We’re a good source of folate (one of the eight vitamins in the B group) which keeps your blood healthy and helps you grow. It’s especially important for mums to get enough folate at the beginning of a pregnancy to help prevent some birth defects in the baby
  • 100g of us has as much iron as a pork chop.
  • 100g green beans have 120 kJ

How They are Grown and Harvested

Most of us are either grown on an upright bush or on a climbing plant. The climbing plant is grown with the aid of trellises or stakes to keep our parent plant off the ground. We prefer mild weather that does not get too cold (frost will destroy our pods) or extremely hot weather.

We can be grown on most terrains as long as there is an adequate water supply.

Different varieties of us have different planting times. Depending on our variety, we mature very quickly and will be ready to harvest 8-10 weeks after we have been planted.

Our immature pods are picked by hand as our parent plant is fragile and pickers must ensure that our pods are picked before they become mature. Once the harvest is over, our parent plant will stop producing pods and die.

Choosing Beans

Choose those of us with slender, crisp pods that are bright in colour and blemish-free. Avoid mature beans with large seeds and swollen pods. Good quality beans will snap readily when broken.

How to Keep Beans

Place us unwashed in the vegetable crisper or in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use within 4 days.

Prime Growing Areas

History of Beans

We’re an ancient vegetable with some of us being used for over 7000 years. And we’ve been (pardon the pun) so popular that we’re woven into the English language. Just think of all the expressions using us:

Full of beans – means you’ve got lots of energy
Bean-fed – means you’re high spirited
Bean-feast – means a great meal
Spill the beans – means to tell the truth

Green or common beans grew wild in Central and South America and have been used by people in these areas since 5000-6000 BC. A large number of commonly used beans today came from this area. The Spanish Conquistadors brought our ancestors back to Europe in the 16th century and since then we have spread throughout the world.

The broad bean is our only relative to originate in Europe where it has been used since prehistoric times. Broad beans have been found in sites of Iron and Bronze Age settlements, as well as in Egyptian tombs.

Snake beans come from tropical Asia where they are widely used in Asian cooking. Snake beans are also related to pigeon peas which form a major part of the diet of people living in the Middle East, Africa and India.

French or green bean seeds were brought out to Australia on the ships of the First Fleet and were planted on Norfolk Island in March, 1788. We didn’t do very well because of strong salty winds, so a smaller and shorter variety was sown later that year.

Over thousands of years people have been selecting and growing the best of us which has resulted in the hundreds of different varieties available today.

Fun Ways to Eat and Cook Beans

When we’re young and firm we’re great eaten raw after being ‘topped and tailed’ by removing the ends and any strings. Steam, boil, stir-fry or microwave until cooked but still crisp to maintain nutrients, about 3-5 minutes.

If serving cold, plunge into iced water after cooking to retain green colour. Serve as a vegetable with dips, in salads, casseroles and soups.

Nutty Beans And Bacon
Cut 4 rashers of chopped bacon and pan-fry 2-3 minutes with 1 small diced onion. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic, 400g beans cut into 2cm lengths. Cook, stirring constantly, until cooked but crisp. Serve sprinkled with roasted slivered almonds.

Baked Savoury Beans
Fry 1 diced onion, 1/2 diced red capsicum and 1 clove chopped garlic until soft. Place in casserole dish with 450g cooked beans, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1 teaspoon chopped thyme. Stir in 1 can condensed mushroom soup. Top with buttered bread crumbs or crushed corn flakes and bake uncovered in moderate oven for 15-20 minutes.

Creamy Bean Salad
Toss cooked green beans and asparagus cut in pieces with thinly sliced red capsicum, shallots and your favourite creamy salad dressing. Sprinkle with chopped roasted macadamia nuts, thinly sliced red onion and chopped parsley.