Beans, beans the magical fruit. The more you eat the more you toot. Beans grow best in full sun, during spring and early summer when temperatures are between 60 and 75 F. They thrive in cool, damp weather and bloom throughout the growing season, providing a steady harvest of sweet gardening snacks. Peas contain the most flavor when eaten straight after harvesting. When planted in well-drained soil rich in organic matter, beans can grow up to 8 feet tall and spread 1 foot wide. They provide nitrogen to the soil, actually leaving behind more than they take up (1). Beans can tolerate a light frost, more so in the spring than in the fall. They can be planted with other cool season crops such as spinach, radish, broccoli, leek, and potato. Pests attracted to beans include seedcorn maggots and aphids. Seedcorn maggots are drawn to heavy fertilizer and organic matter in the garden, so limit the amounts used. Aphids can be removed from plants with a stream of water. Crop rotation is important for beans and should be done every year. Beans are harvested at an immature stage, just before the seed is fully grown (4). The harvest remains fresh for 4 days. It can be frozen or stored immediately after harvesting. The most popular variety of beans are snap beans, which can be grown as bush or vine. Bush varieties tend to be easier to grow, requiring less maintenance, and they grow faster than vine varieties do. Pole and bush beans are commonly referred to as green beans (4). Other bush varieties include dry, scarlet runner beans, lima beans, yard long beans or asparagus beans, and tepary beans. Tepary beans were grown by native peoples in the southwest, and are especially suited for desert conditions (5).
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
Beans, also known as pulses, are often stigmatized for their gas-inducing qualities. However, beans are a powerhouse of nutrition, providing a high supply of protein, complex carbohydrates, soluble fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are staples of a vegetarian diet due to their high supply of protein, iron, and zinc. Flatulence due to bean consumption can be avoided by soaking beans overnight and discarding the water before cooking. Soaking reduces cooking time and breaks down the compounds that induce gassiness. Traditional soaking involves soaking beans for at least 8 hours. For quick soaking, bring dry beans to a boil for 2-3 minutes, then let them sit for an hour. Hot soaking reduces cooking time the most and is done by boiling beans, then letting them sit for 4 to 24 hours (7). Canned beans contain far less nutritional value than dry beans do. If cooking with canned beans, drain and rinse to lower the sodium content by 40%. Since salting increases cooking time as well as the toughness of the beans, making them difficult to digest, it is best to salt after cooking (8). Some of the commonly used dry beans are pinto, navy, kidney, black, red kidney, and great northern beans, with pinto beans being the most commonly consumed in the United States. According to the Bean Institute, “Dry beans may be one of the most important tools available to consumers, dieticians, health educators and policy makers in national efforts to curb obesity and improve health (7).” Beans help control blood glucose, reduce cholesterol, and improve cardiovascular health. Regularly eating beans can decrease the risk of colon and rectal cancer (7). About one-third of Americans are prehypertensive. A recent study shows that beans can lower blood pressure. Furthermore, adding beans to the diet can reduce inflammation, and the fiber in beans is associated with reduced prostate cancer (7).
So why do beans cause gas? According to the website Choosing Raw, beans “contain oligosaccharides, or starches, for which our bodies have limited stores of digestive enzymes.” The enzymes only reside in the stomach, and those who don’t eat beans regularly tend not to have enough of the enzymes to digest the legume properly. By slowly adding more beans to the diet, the amount of enzyme gradually increases (8). Cooking beans with the seaweed Kombu also decreases gassiness and is a traditional way of cooking beans in Asia. Glutamic acid, contained in Kombu, enhances flavor and softens proteins, making them easier to digest (9).
Significance to Cultural Communities
Beans of all kinds have a presence in almost every culture. All around the world, bean dishes are commonly cooked with rice, meat, and various seasonings. In Mexico, Frijoles Charros (Cowboy Beans), is made with bacon, onion poblano chiles, tomatoes and coriander. Frijoles Negros a la Oaxaqueña, (Oaxacan Black Beans), is a staple made with onions, garlic, and epazote (which can be harvested straight from the Heritage Garden!). Similarly, in Cuba, Frijoles Negros is made with onion, bell pepper, cumin, and oregano. In Brazil, the national dish, called Feijoada, is made of black beans, which were cooked with smoked pork and sausages, and served with rice. In Chile, Porotos Granados is made up of cranberry beans stewed with winter squash, chile, corn, and paprika. In Colombia, Frijoles Rojos is a dish of pink beans cooked with ham, tomatoes, onions, and diced plantain. In Peru, Tacu Tacu is a dish of thick pan-fried cakes served with rice and beans. In France, cassoulet is a slow-simmered mix of beans, pork sausages, pork shoulder, pancetta, and duck. White beans are used in a variety of Mediterranean dishes. In Greece, gigantes are made with white beans, tomato, oregano and honey. In India, rajma is made with red kidney beans cooked with garlic, ginger, tomato sauce, and spices (such as cumin seed, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, and asafetida powder). In American cuisine, succotash is a simple dish of beans and corn, apparently served at the first Thanksgiving. Louisiana red beans and rice are made with small red beans cooked with onions, smoked andouille sausage, and seasonings, served over rice (7). Beans were among the first crops to be cultivated, dating back to 9750 BC. Because of how nutritious and abundant beans have always been, they were often used as a meat substitute for the poor. Beans were a great source of protein and meat was seen as a luxury (9).
From the Community Voice
“Three sister’s plot… that might be a new concept for some people but for people who do farming or gardening is a favorite. The three sister’s plot consists of corn squash and beans. The three are planted together to maximize their potential. This system goes back to the Mayas but around the same time to the Native Americans. This was a method developed to increase the production of these three plants which were the main and most important components of the Maya and Native American diet. The corn provides the space for the beans to grow, the beans become a fertilizer for the corn and the squash, and the squash provides a good water retention system. In my case, the three sister’s plot is one of my favorite things in the garden and as an activist I can’t help but to make a connection between the three sister’s plot and society. Let’s look at it this way; by themselves, these three plants will produce and will survive, but when they are together their potential is expanded and the chances of them producing, as well as the quantity and quality, are increased. Now, in our society we have been taught that in order to be productive and successful we have to live our lives though a model of individualism. We have this language and mindset of the individual. In reality is this individual mentality that in many occasions has crippled our nation, our businesses, our relations, our communities, and even our families. The truth is that we really need each other just like the corn, beans and squash need each other”
- Ian Torres, Heritage Garden Intern
1."Beans - Dried." Weekend Gardener. Web. 06 Nov. 2014. <http://www.weekendgardener.net/vegetables/beans-dried.htm>.
2."Home Gardening - Vegetable Growing Guides - Peas." Home Gardening. Cornell University, Web. 05 Nov. 2014. <http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/homegardening/scene9697.html>.
3."How to Grow Sugar Snap Peas." Backyard Gardening Blog. Jalic Inc, Web. 05 Nov. 2014. <http://www.gardeningblog.net/how-to-grow/sugar-snap-peas/>.
4."Beans." The Old Farmer's Almanac. Yankee Publishing Inc, Web. 06 Nov. 2014. <http://www.almanac.com/plant/beans>.
5."All About Growing Beans." Mother Earth News. Ogden Publications, Inc., Web. <http://www.motherearthnews.com%2Forganic-gardening%2Fgrowing-beans-zmaz09jjzraw.aspx%23axzz3HStLDts5>.
6."Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia." Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Web. 06 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002136.htm>.
7."Cooking With Dry Beans." The Bean Institute. The Bean Institute, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2014. <http://beaninstitute.com/recipes/cooking-with-dry-beans/>.
8."10 Tips for Better Bean Digestion; A Few Announcements." Choosing Raw Vegan and Raw Recipes. Web. 06 Nov. 2014. <http://www.choosingraw.com/10-tips-for-better-bean-digestion-a-few-announcements/>.
9. “A Selective History of Beans.” Republic of Beans. <http://www.republicofbeans.com/history.php>