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.
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.