Featured Ingredient — By Ben on 21 March 2012
An Introduction to Beans

In the past I’ve written a little bit about beans. In this post I stated that the word bean has a broad meaning. It applies to seeds of several different plants throughout the world. They come in hundreds of shapes sizes and colors, are versatile and amazingly convenient because they can be dried and stored for years.

Beans have been cultivated for thousands of years. There’s evidence that they were some of the first cultivated crops in human history. This makes them an essential part of the evolution of early civilizations. When hunter-gatherer groups started to develop agricultural systems they were able to establish into more stable communities that were the beginning of complex societies.

Peas were being cultivated in Thailand as early as 9750 BC. The use of lentils has been traced back as far as 6750 BC in parts of the Middle East. Lentils, chickpeas and fava beans have been found in 4000 year-old Egyptian tombs.

In the Americas, early civilizations cultivated the Phaseolus vulgaris, or common bean, as early as 7000 BC. This variety includes pinto, black, kidney, lima and haricot beans among many others. Its adaptability helped it to become one of the staple crops in the continent.

Beans

In Mesoamerica, beans were grown using the agricultural system known as milpa. Different crops (maize, squash, beans, etc.) are cultivated in the same field. This system creates large yields of food crops. It is self-sustaining and adaptable to different types of terrain. Milpa crops (in this case beans and maize) are nutritionally and environmentally complementary. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the body needs to make proteins and niacin. In the other hand, beans have both lysine and tryptophan.

This relationship exists in other diets all around the world. Beans and grains have a symbiotic relationship in which the amino acids of each complement one another in such way as to form a complete protein. Regional and cultural combinations such as lentils and rice, Lima beans and corn, and chickpeas (garbonzo beans) and couscous are a reflection of this correlation.

This series of articles will focus on the beans cultivated in Mesoamerica and other parts of the Americas. I’m looking forward to sharing the history of beans in Mexico, their importance for the diet of old and new civilizations, their production by small and local farmers and authentic recipes. I’ve posted many bean recipes in the past, but I’m excited about sharing new ones during the upcoming weeks. Please stay tuned for more.

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¡Buen provecho!

In other news, my article about the trip we took to the Xochimilco chinampas has been published in Zomppa magazine. You can read it here.

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About Author

grew up around food. His family owned a restaurant in Mexico City and he spent a big deal of his childhood helping and learning after school the art of creating delicious dishes from simple ingredients. He created this blog to share his kitchen adventures with the world.

(13) Readers Comments

  1. Oh, beans… I love them! Your article is lovely, as always.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Love Indian lentils over rice or Puerto Rican beans and rice with plantains.

    This post makes me want to make a black bean soup.

  3. Not gonna lie..beans make my heart race a little.

  4. I look forward to reading more articles Ben! Now I am off to read your article at Zomppa!

  5. And they look so pretty in the clear jars on my kitchen counter. :)

  6. Another great, informative post, Ben–and wonderful photos. Love the beans with the hands.

  7. One of my greatest guilty pleasures is to run my hand in bean bags. I dream of doing it with the picture above. I’m looking forward to the new recipes.

  8. Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat them, the more you…YEAH!!! Great post – I too love running my hands through beans!

  9. Love beans and your first photo is so beautiful. Your article is very interesting but I do not see Greece mentioned anywhere. The name itself “phaseolus” is Greek and we call beans phasolia or fasolia. The Greeks have been cultivating and eating phaseolus for more than 9000 years. A quick google search and you will find information.

  10. Beans are so healthy and versatile! I love them :D. Beautiful pictures Ben! I will stay tunned to learn more about them.

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