New world beans


A first view of one of my common beans

I have Anglo-Saxon roots and I live in the Americas – this often leads me to think about what my ancestors were eating before the new world was discovered. However, most of my favourite foods come from the new world like tomatoes, peppers, squash, potatoes, quinoa and a plethora of tasty beans.

To further my beany summary, here are the new world beans (old world beans are here) …

  • The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) – originating in Central and South America, this diverse group includes kidney beans and navy beans and often goes under the misleading name of French Bean. There is evidence these beans were being cultivated as early as 6000 BC in Peru, Mexico and Argentina. At the time of the Spanish Conquest the common bean was introduced to Europe. The more I look into this group of beans the more amazed I am at the diversity, they can be black, white, buff, red, brown or any combination. And most aren’t available commercially, so to try their (so I’ve heard) diverse flavours, I’ll have to grow them.
  • Runner Bean (Phaseolus coccineus). These beans originate from Mexico where the vine grows as a perennial – and it is a beauty, some varieties have flowers a rich red (scarlet) that hummingbirds flock to. Once dried down the moulted black and purple beans are huge. I’ve read they have a meaty flavour, which hopefully I’ll be testing soon.
  • Lima Bean (Phaseolus lunatus). First seen by Europeans in Lima Peru, hence its name – likely originates from Peru. I don’t know if I have ever tried a lima bean, I have some seeds but forgot to plant them when the conditions were optimally cool for them (I’ll try to remember next year).
  • Tepary Bean (Phaseolus acutifolius). I only just found out about this bean, considering its origins are relatively close to me. Our earliest record of tepary beans on the menu comes from Mexico around 3000 BC, however it might be native to Arizona. This bean can be white, yellow, brown, green, bluish-black or speckled is adapted to dry conditions, producing a small, but protein dense bean.

There are more like the Jack Bean (Canavalia ensiformis) and Sword-bean (Canavalia gladiata) from central and south America. Even the root jicama (Pachyrrhizus erosus) is a bean. I’m sure there bucket loads of other beans that I’ve never heard of but would be exciting to try.