Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit…

Okay, so maybe they’re not magic, but as far as nutritional value goes, beans are pretty darn potent. Beans are like gold to diabetics, hypoglycemics, and those who are attempting weight-loss. Only 2-6% of the calories in beans are derived from fat, in contrast to 75-85% for meat and cheese. Beans are naturally cholesterol free, and have a very low estimated glycemic load, meaning that they do not trigger a spike in blood sugar or require the pancreas to pump out insulin.

But the healthy qualities of beans aren’t just attributed to what they don’t do, because they are also great little nutrient powerhouses. Garbanzo beans, for example, are chock full of fiber and protein, which help to keep you feeling full and fueled for a long period of time. On top of that, the protein that a garbanzo bean contains is complete protein, meaning that all of the necessary amino acids are naturally present in order to provide your body with peak quality (usable) protein. In other words, garbanzo beans could whip a protein bar’s butt any day.

Every vegetable gardener should absolutely make room for beans in his or her garden plot. But how do you know which types of beans to plant? It can be difficult to choose, because there are an enourmous number of different varieties that may be divided among three different types:

(1) The first type of bean is a snap bean. These include varieties of green, yellow, and string beans, including common bush and pole beans. There are over 130 known varieties of snap beans in the world. This type of bean is picked when the seeds are very underdeveloped and small.

(2) The second type of bean is a shell bean. Shell beans, also called horticultural beans, are harvested when the seeds are fully developed within their pods, but they have not dried out. A shell bean is considered to be any bean that is grown for the bean itself (the seed of the plant) rather than the pod. These include lima beans and runner beans.

(3) The third and last type of bean is a dry bean. Dry beans are harvested when the seed within the pod is completely developed and dried, and rattles within the pod when shook. Essentially, all three varieties of beans are the same. They are just harvested at different points of development. Therefore, green beans may be harvested at 50 days after planting, whereas dry beans will take 80-100 days. Types of dry beans include black beans, adzuki beans, and pinto beans.

With so many different types of beans from which to choose, it may take you a while to find your favorite varieties. One factor to consider is the space that you have available. Some types of beans, such as pole beans, can grow to be 6-10 feet tall and will need to be staked up on poles or a trellis.

The bean varieties that I plant in my crisis garden each year are the Jacob’s Cattle Bean and the Stringless Black Valentine Bean. The Jacob’s Cattle Bean is an excellent bean choice for hearty dishes such as chili because they hold their shape well when cooked, and can stand a large amount of seasoning. The beans are beautiful in themselves- they are a deep maroon color with white spots, and have a shape similar to that of a kidney bean. Since the Jacob’s Cattle Bean is a dry bean variety, it takes about 100 days from planting to harvest.

The Stringless Black Valentine Bean is an interesting bean because it is a good example of how bean types can overlap. This particular type of bean was created in 1897 by crossing a Pencil Pod Black Wax Bean with a Black Valentine Bean. This bean can be harvested as a snap bean, meaning that you pick it in the pod 50 days after planting. The pods are slender and called “stringless” because, well, they’re stringless. I particularly like to use these in vegetable soups. You can alternately harvest Stringless Black Valentine Beans as shell beans after 70 days. The seeds are black when raw, but turn a pretty dark purple color when cooked.

Okay, now here’s the question you’ve all been waiting for: When cooking with dry beans, how do you avoid… ahem… flatulence inducing effects.

Well, there is no way to get rid of it entirely, since most dry beans are very high in fiber. But there are a couple different methods you can try to help remove gas-promoting substances. When soaking dry beans before cooking them, try changing the water 3 times and replacing it with fresh water each time. Then, give the beans another good, thorough rinse before cooking them. Another tip is to make sure you cook your beans thoroughly, as undercooked beans are most likely to contain gas-causing starches.

One good thing is that you are automatically less likely to get gas from homegrown beans than from store-bought beans. The reason is that beans actually become less digestible as they age, so the fresher the bean, the easier it will be on your digestive system.

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2 comments so far

  1. […] Once you have these 4 basics, you can rest easy knowing that you have the essentials. It is a good idea to add other dry good as you are able to, and as you can afford them. Two other basics that I would highly recommend adding are white rice (brown is more nutritious, but white stores better) and dry beans. There are many different varieties of dry beans from which to choose, and a major bonus is that they are quite cheap. For information on the multiple health benefits of beans, check out my blog Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit. […]

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