The common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, is an herbaceous annual plant domesticated independently in ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes, and now grown worldwide for its edible bean, popular both dry and as a green bean. The leaf is occasionally used as a leaf vegetable, and the straw is used for fodder. Botanically, the common bean is classified as a dicotyledon. Beans, squash and maize constituted the "Three Sisters" that provided the foundation of Native American agriculture. As a legume, beans provided the nitrogen-fixing bacteria which supplied that essential nutrient to the other two crops.
As the common bean is a dicot, it germinates as such:
Dry beans will keep indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but as time passes, their nutritive value and flavor degrade and cooking times lengthen. Dried beans are almost always cooked by boiling, often after having been soaked for several hours. While the soaking is not strictly necessary, it shortens cooking time and results in more evenly textured beans. In addition, discarding one or more batches of soaking water leaches out hard-to-digest complex sugars that can cause flatulence, though those who eat beans regularly rarely have difficulties with flatulence as intestinal flora adjust. There are several methods including overnight soaking, and the power soak method, which is to boil beans for three minutes, then set them aside for 2-4 hours, then drain and discard the water and proceed with cooking. Common beans take longer to cook than most pulses: cooking times vary from one to four hours but are substantially reduced with pressure cooking.
In Mexico, Central America and South America, the traditional spice to use with beans is epazote, which is also said to aid digestion. In East Asia a type of seaweed, Kombu, is added to beans as they cook for the same purpose. Salt, sugar, and acidic foods like tomatoes may harden uncooked beans resulting in seasoned beans at the expense of slightly longer cooking times.
Green common beans are also called string beans, stringless beans (depending on whether the pod has a tough, fibrous "string" running along its length), or snap beans. Compared to the dry beans, they provide less starch and protein, and more vitamin A and vitamin C. The green beans are often steamed, stir-fried, or baked in casseroles.
Nutritionally, shell beans are similar to dry beans, but in the kitchen are treated as a vegetable, often steamed, fried, or made into soups.
Many well-known bean varieties belong to this species, and none of the lists below are in any way exhaustive. Both bush and running (pole) varieties exist. The colors and shapes of pods and seeds vary tremendously.
Cornucopia lists 37 varieties of shell beans. The light green Flageolet bean is taken very seriously in France and soon the heirloom Chevrier will come under a controlled label reminiscent of the wine "Appellation d'Origine Controllée" called "Label Rouge". A number of other beans are already produced under this label.
Flageolet bean varieties include:
Borlotti beans originated in North America where they are known by several names. The bean is a medium large tan bean, splashed with red/black to magenta streaks. It is very popular in Italian and Portuguese cuisine.
The American cranberry bean or horticultural bean is quite similar if not the same as the Italian borlotti bean. Pinto beans are not considered the same as borlotti beans.
The pinto bean (Spanish: frijol pinto, literally "painted bean") is named for its mottled skin (compare pinto horse), hence it is a type of mottled bean. It is the most common bean in the United States and northwestern Mexico , and is most often eaten whole in broth or mashed and refried. Either whole or mashed, it is a common filling for burritos. The young pods may also be used as green beans.
In the southwest United States, the pinto bean is an important symbol of regional identity, especially among Mexican Americans. Along with the chile/chilli, it is one of the official state vegetables of New Mexico (under the name frijol). The prepared beans are commonly known as frijoles. This type of bean is also referred to as "Cowboy Beans" in Texas, all along the Mexican border and wherever Mexican cowboys were employed. In areas where Mexican cowboys did not travel on the trails north from Texas, it was probably not known.
This is the most commonly used bean used for refried beans (fresh or canned) and in many dishes at Tex-Mex restaurants. Rice and pinto beans served with cornbread or corn tortillas are often a staple meal where there is limited money for meat, as the combination of beans and corn creates virtually all the protein amino acids needed in a meat substitute. When it comes to making chili, if a bean is added, this is the one typically used, although the kidney bean, black bean, and many others may also be used in other locales (see below).
Pinto bean varieties include:
The alubia pinta alavesa, or the "Álava pinto bean", is a red variety of the pinto bean which originated in Añana, a town and municipality located in the province of Álava, in the Basque Country of northern Spain. In October, "la Feria de la alubia pinta alavesa" (the fair of the Alubia pinta alavesa) is celebrated in Pobes.
The small, white navy bean, also called pea bean or haricot, is particularly popular in Britain and the US, featuring in such dishes as baked beans as well as in various soups such as the famous Senate Bean Soup.
Navy bean varieties include:
Other white beans are Cannellini (a quite popular variety in Central and Southern Italy) and Great Northern.
The kidney bean with its dark red skin is named for its visual resemblance to a kidney. The kidney bean is also known as the red bean, although this usage can cause confusion with other red beans. Red kidney beans (rājmā in Hindi and Punjabi, Kārāmani or Kārāmani Payir Tamil) are an integral part of the cuisine in northern and also southern region of India. In Tamilnadu during the Tamil-Hindu festival Kaaradaiyaan Nonbu (Kamakshi Nonbu) a kind of sweet dish called Kozhukattai (steamed sweet cake) prepared with cooked and mashed kidney bean mixed with jaggery, ghee and other sub ingredients. Sometimes kidney beans are used in the red beans and rice of Louisiana Creole cuisine. Other times small red beans are used. Small red beans are noticeably smaller and darker than kidney beans. They have a smoother taste and are preferred for Cajun cuisine. Small kidney beans used in La Rioja, Spain, are called Caparrones.
The small, shiny black turtle bean is especially popular in Latin American cuisine. It is often called simply the black bean (frijol negro in Spanish, feijão preto in Portuguese), although this can cause confusion with other black beans.
The black turtle bean has a dense, meaty texture and flavor reminiscent of mushrooms, which makes it popular in vegetarian dishes such as the Mexican-American black bean burrito. It is a very popular bean in various regions of Brazil, and is used in the national dish, feijoada. It is also a principal ingredient of Platillo Moros y Cristianos as in Cuba, a must-have in the typical casados of Costa Rica, and served elsewhere in almost all Latin America.
Black turtle bean varieties include: