[Broad Bean, Faba Bean, Horse Bean (smaller versions), Field Bean; Ful Roomy (Egypt); Vicia faba alt Faba sativa]
Native to North Africa or Southwest Asia, these were the only beans common in Europe before discovery of the Americas. They are essential to the cuisines of peoples all around the Mediterranean, particularly the Near East and North Africa, and are widely marketed in the North America. Fresh, once rare, are increasingly available.
Favas come in a wide range of sizes. In Europe, the larger are grown for human consumption and the smaller, called "horse beans", mostly for animal feed. In Egypt and the Near East small beans are much used in cooking. The photo specimens are fairly large beans with pods about 7-1/2 inches long. Seeds in the open pod are 1.25 inches long, 0.75 inches across and 0.5 inches thick. but the average bean is smaller. The photo also shows large dried favas both peeled and unpeeled. Unpeeled (the dark ones) are most common). Favas, generally the smaller ones (Ful Hamam), are also available canned (previously dried).
More on Beans, Peas & Lentils
For the tiny round fava beans used to make Ful Medamis in Egypt, see our Ful Hamam Beans page.
When fully mature, the pods will start to show signs of browning which is when fresh beans are at their largest. Select smaller fully green pods if you want beans with a more tender skin and pods speckled with brown if you want maximum bean. Fresh beans can be deceptive with full looking pods having little in them, so select by feeling the beans inside.
Fava pods can only be eaten very young and must be cooked (toxic), but pods that young are not much available, even in California. Mature pods are lined with fuzz which cushions the beans and the beans themselves have a tough outer skin which is removed for some recipes and not for others. After boiling a few minutes the skins are easily peeled off, but it's tedious.
Yield of fresh favas is not high. 26 ounces of average size pods yielded 11 ounces of beans (42%) which when boiled and peeled became 6-5/8 ounces peeled (22%). If your recipe is OK with frozen you can get pre-peeled favas for much less cost and much less trouble.
Fresh pods can be kept at room temperature for several days wrapped in paper or otherwise protected from drying out.
Health & Nutrition
Fava beans are known to be deadly to people with a genetic deficiency of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenaise (G6PD), children being particularly vulnerable. While rare, this deficiency is found in some ethnic groups, Africans and people of Mediterranean descent - ironically the regions where fava beans are most consumed.
This enzyme deficiency is thought to provide some protection against malaria, but without the enzyme to detoxify fava beans, fever, heavy loss of red blood cells and a yellow complexion result. Survivors recover completely but blood transfusion may be needed in severe cases. Favas should also be avoided by people taking MAOI antidepressants.
On the plus side, Favas are high in L-dopa which is used to treat Parkinson's disease and may be helpful in reducing high blood pressure. It is also reputed to increase human libido and help with erectile disfunction.