Listed here are mostly beans I've had no trouble finding in Southern
California, though a few are temporarily scarce due to an embargo by the
government of India on export of dal (legumes) - they felt the export markets
were driving up prices to the point Indians couldn't afford them - and since
dal is what a great many Indians live on, that's a serious problem.
While Indian markets doubled their prices, supply has actually been no
problem because most varieties were already coming mainly from Africa, not
The Bean Family Tree I've included
for those who would like a more botanical view.
[Cha-om (Thai); Su pout ywet (Burmese); Acacia pennata |
Mimosa (flowers), Thorntrees; Wattles (Australia); Leguminosae and
other Acacia species]
Native to tropical and subtropical climates worldwide, these shrubs and
small trees are well known for wood, medicinals, decoratives, tannin,
incense, flavorings and gum arabic (Acacia senegal) but not
particularly as food plants. Acacia is used as a flavoring in various
American soft drinks, energy drinks, candies and chewing gums. The foliage
and bark of many acacias contain psychoactive alkaloids.
Photo of A. pennata by J.M.Garg distributed under license
Attribution-Share Alike 3.0.
Feathery leaf shoots of Acacia pennata (a vine-like climbing
tree) are used in omelets, curries,
soups and stir fries in Thailand, Burma and Laos. Acacia omelets are
particularly popular as a side dish or added to soups in Thailand.
Beans from the pods of some acacia species, called Guajes or Huajes, are
used an a wide variety of ways in Mexico, raw, cooked, toasted with salt
as snacks and ground for fritters or moles. These can sometimes be found
as whole long pods in markets serving Mexican communities. Fresh pods may
be green or red and dried pods are also sold.
In India acacia fruits are used to make an alcoholic beverage said to be
favored by both people and elephants. Elephants are notorious drunks
[Dok Kae (Thai); So dua (Viet); Agati, Agasti, agase, heta, gaach-munga
(India); Bunga turi, Kembang turi (Indonesia); Sesbania grandiflorra
(White) | Doc sano (Thai); Dien dien gai, Dien thanh gai
(Viet); Danchi, Dunchi (India) Sesbania bispinosa (Yellow)]
Native to Southeast Asia and tropical India, flowers of this tree are
used as a vegetable throughout the region. In Thailand flowers are
cooked in curries and served raw or steamed with a fish sauce dip. In India
and Sri Lanka young pods and leaves are also used. The trees require hot
humid growing conditions and are extremely sensitive to frost, so are not
grown in California.
The photo specimens, neatly laid out in a foam tray, were purchased from
the frozen food cases of a Philippine market in Los Angeles. They were about
2-1/4 inches long on average. They are also available here packed in brine in
A small yellow species, S. bispinosa, is also used in Vietnam and
Thailand but is less popular. That species is grown widely in India for
non-culinary purposes. A red variety of the larger S. grandiflorra
also exists. Details and Cooking.
- [Medicago sativa]
Alfalfa, which originated in the Near East, is an important crop for animal
feed and forage in the U.S. as well as for replenishing nitrogen in soil
depleted by other crops. Direct human consumption is pretty much confined
to sprouts, popular for inclusion in vegetarian salads and sandwiches. The
alfalfa seed is very tiny, so the sprout is tiny as well.
Asian & African Beans
- [Genus Vigna]
While common beans are from the New World, these beans have been
harvested in India since prehistoric times and were probably taken to China
from there. A few members of the cowpea species appear to be native to Africa,
and were brought to the American South with the slave trade.
Azuki Beans -
[Azuki, Adzuki (Japan); Xiao Dou (China);
These small red beans (say "aZOOky") are native to Asia and grown
primarily in China, Japan and Thailand. They are most known in the U.S.
for their use in Japanese cooking, particularly for sweet bean paste and
for sprouting. There is said to be a black variety but I have not yet
confirmed that those are not actually Urad beans.
Azuki beans are similar in size and shape to Mung
beans but somewhat sweeter. Whole beans should be soaked at least 6
hours before cooking. They will be done after simmering for one hour but
remain fairly firm.
Cowpeas are very important crops in the drier areas of the tropics,
particularly in Africa and India. They tolerate poor soil and rather dry
conditions compared to other beans. They are shade tolerant so can be
interplanted with corn and other grain crops. This is very important because
their protein profile complements that of grains, the two making up for
each other's shortcomings in human nutrition.
Black-eyed Peas -
[black-eyed bean,Field Peas; Lobiya, Lobia (India); Rongi,
Chawli (India); subspecies dekindtiana]
Native to Africa, black-eyed peas are now planted worldwide,
particularly in India, the U.S. Southern States, the Caribbean and
California. They are well known in the U.S. for their use in
Southern and Afro-American cooking. They are also very popular in
Brazil, which has a strong African influence.
Details and Cooking.
Native to Africa, this cowpea is now grown in various warm areas of
the world. In the U.S. it is grown mainly as animal fodder, but elsewhere
it's used as human food.
Long Beans - [Asparagus Bean,
Yardlong Bean, Snake Bean, Thua fak yao (Thai); Kacang panjang (Malay);
Vali, Eeril (India); Dau gok (Cantonese); subspecies sesquipedalis]
Unlike it's relative the Black-eyed Pea these
beans are grown only for the pod. These pods are much meatier than
the black-eye pea pods. Often called Yardlong Beans they actually
top out at about 28 inches. The photo specimens are typically 3/8
inch in diameter and the longest was 26 inches, but they are
commonly a little smaller. These beans are important to the
cuisines of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, so are widely
grown in California.
Details and Cooking
Southern Pea -
[Crowder Pea, subspecies unguiculata]
These cowpeas are so crowded in their pod their ends tend
to be squared off rather than rounded. They are commonly eaten in the
U.S. Southern States but not seen much in the rest of the country.
Moth Beans, Moth Dal
These very tiny beans and their dal provide an unusual texture and an
earthy flavor making them popular in India. 1 cup of dried moth beans will
need 1-3/4 cups of soaking water. Soak 6 hours.
Mung Beans - [Moong,
Green Gram, Yellow Lentils (India); V. radiata]
Native to South Asia from Pakistan through Bangladesh, these small
squarish beans are now widely grown in East Asia and around the world.
The dark green beans are most familiar to Americans as the source for the
common bean sprout, but they are much more important as dried beans and
dal in India. Mung beans are also the bean used to make transparent bean
thread noodles popular in East Asian cooking as well as bean jelly and
many desert dishes.
Pictured are the whole beans and the split and peeled form (dal).
Indian markets also often have this bean in split but unpeeled form and
sometimes in whole peeled form. The dal is easily recognized because
it's more yellow than the dal of similar beans. The photo specimen
whole beans are about 0.2 inches long and 0.15 inches diameter.
Details and Cooking.
Red Chori nbsp; -
Most listings equate Red Chori and Azuki Beans but I find these small
reddish beans grown primarily in India different enough to list separately.
They are lighter in color and less shiny than the Azuki and cook up softer
with a more mellow flavor. They are very similar in size and shape to
Mung Beans and Urad Beans but
are less common and more expensive.
Red chori whole beans and chori dal (peeled and split) are used in
India similarly to Mung and Urad beans, Whole beans should be soaked at
least 6 hours and will need about 2-1/2 cups of water. One cup dry will
yield about 3-1/2 cups soaked. soaked beans will be fully cooked in 45
Urad Beans - [Black Gram,
Black Lentils, White Lentils (India); V. mungo]
These small black beans native to India are the same size and shape as the
familiar Mung Bean, and are one of the more important
beans/dals in India, and the dal is also used as a seasoning in
Urad beans are sold in three forms, whole (Urad, Black Gram), Split,
and split and peeled (Urad Dal, White Lentils). Whole beans take at least
a stunning 12 hours of soaking time. 1 cup requires about 2-1/2 cup of
water and you'll end up with 3-1/2 cups of soaked beans. Soaked beans
will be tender in less than 3/4 hour, unsoaked beans will take about
1-1/4 hours to become tender but may not stay as intact as soaked beans.
Details and Cooking
Bengal Beans - see Chick Peas - Chana
Black Gram - see Urad Beans
Black Gram Dal Urad Beans peeled
[Golden Shower Tree; Cassia fistula]
This popular tree, seen blooming profusely all over Southern California in
early Summer, is native to South and Southeast Asia. It is the national tree
and flower of Thailand and state flower of Kerala in India. The tree produces
hard bean pods over a foot long and up to an inch across. The beans are said
to be toxic, but unfortunately, they do not seem to be toxic to squirrels.
In Thailand both leaves and flower buds are used in curries and the like.
They are both available lightly pickled in jars here in Los Angeles, but
of course fresh leaves are available all over town, and fresh buds in the
Summer. Details and Cooking.
Chana - Chick Peas
Chana Dal - Chick Peas peeled
[Garbanzos (Spanish), Ceci (Italy), Chiche (France), Chana / Bengal Gram
(India), Cicer arietinum]
Originating probably in southeastern Turkey, these "peas" were taken to
India and to the Mediterranean region in prehistoric times. Today they remain
prominent in the cuisines of both regions. Chickpeas require a warm dry
climate so in the U.S. they are grown mainly in California and Arizona. They
are grown in other parts of the country but yields decline with temperature.
The photo shows chickpea flour (besam) in the center and clockwise from the
top green and red Bengal gram (Desi type chickpeas), light colored Kabul type
chickpeas, fresh Kabul type chickpeas and pods, and Chana Dal (split and
peeled Bengal gram.
Chana (Desi type) - [Bengal
Chickpeas, Kala Chana, Chana Dal, Bengal Gram (India); Shimbra (Ethiopia)]
One of the most important crops in India, these chickpeas are closer to
the wild chickpeas of southeastern Turkey than are the familiar
Mediterranean (Kabuli) type. Desi is the preferred type for growing in
Shown in the photo are red and green varieties
along with Chana Dal (split and peeled chana) and Besam or Gram Flour
(chickpea flour ground from the dal). Dal is used more than the whole peas
because it cooks much faster, important in a fuel poor country. The red
peas in the photo were around 1/4 inch in diameter and weighed about 155
to an ounce, the green slightly smaller.
Details and Cooking.
Chickpeas (Kabuli type) - [Garbanzo (Spanish);
Kabuli Chana (India); Ceci (Italy); Chiche (France); Hommes, Hamaz
(Arab); Nohud, Lablabi (Turkey)]
These are the large light colored chickpea so familiar in the
Mediterranean region, the Near East and North America. They were not
introduced into India until the 18th century and came there through
Afghanistan, thus named for the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Kabuli is the preferred type for growing in more temperate climates.
The photo shows dried peas on the left, fresh pods top right and freshly
shelled peas on the lower right. The dried peas in the photo were about
3/8 inch in diameter and weighed about 50 to an ounce.
Details and Cooking.
Dalia - [Dalia (Gurarati); Pappulu,
This is actually Chana Dal roasted in special kilns. It is soft and often
eaten as a snack in India, but may be a little chalky for American tastes.
It is often crushed fine for use as a thickener in curries and chutneys.
Chori - see Azuki Beans.
Cluster Beans - Guar -
[Guar, Guvar, Goruchikkudu (India); Cyamopsis tetragonoloba]
This small bean probably originated in India where 80% of the world's
supply is grown. They are also grown in California, mostly for guar gum but
some are diverted to Indian markets. They are sold when mature but the pods
are still green so they can be cooked as a vegetable.
Guar gum, with about 7 times the thickening power of corn starch, is made
by grinding mature beans. It is widely used in commercial food processing
and for various industrial uses.
This gum became an important component of "Fraking" mix for extracting
oil from shale in North America. Demand and price soared, caused a huge
boom in guar growing in India. The price got so high, alternatives were
found, causing a tremendous deflation in the price and great hardship
for guar growers in India.
Cluster Bean - Twisted - see Sataw Bean.
- [Phaseolus vulgaris]
All these beans, now so well known worldwide, were unknown in Europe,
Africa and Asia until European traders brought them from Central and South
Anasazi Beans -
[New Mexico cave beans, Aztec beans, New Mexico appaloosas,
Jacob's Cattle beans.]
These beans may or may not have been grown by the ancient Anasazi in
the US Southest, but the unconfirmed story that they were found by
archaeologists and sprouted is fantasy - even 50 year old beans won't
sprout, nvever mind 800+ year old beans. In any case, they are a sweet
mealy bean that cooks faster than most beans - and they are reputed
to be only 25% as fart generating as the related Pinto Beans.
Unfortunately they lose their color when cooked and turn all pink.
The photo specimens were 0.52 inch long by 0.23 inch thick, sold by
Bob's Red Mill.
Black Beans - [Turtle bean,
Essential to the cooking of Southern Mexico, Central America and the
Caribbean. Their earthy flavor invites strong seasonings and in Mexico's
Yucatan region they are often seasoned with the powerful herb Epezota.
Cannellini Beans - [White
Kidney bean, Fazolia bean; Alubias (Mexico)]
A very popular bean in Italy and called for in many recipes. The beans
in the photo were (to assure authenticity) grown in Italy, so were
Cannellini beans are also grown in North America, and most commonly
sold canned. I'm sure canned beans shipped from Italy are also
available here, at a much higher price.
Another bean very popular in Italy. Again, to assure authenticity I paid a
price I'd rather forget for beans actually grown in Italy. Shipping beans
across the broad Pacific from China makes them cheaper, shipping across the
Atlantic makes them 6 to 8 times the price (yeah, sure).
Dragon Tongue Beans
These are a variegated variety of Romano bean. Clearly
the photo specimens have been too long on the shelf, so why didn't I wait
for fresh ones? This sort of stuff is only put on the shelf when a newly
remodeled supermarket opens - to impress the rubes with how much better it
is now. After opening week you'll never see them again. Basically, they
taste just like green romano beans so why would anyone want to pay three
times as much for them? Well, maybe for salads.
Flor de Mayo
These beans, native to Mexico, have a high reputation for both taste
and texture. The are variable in color, with most a mottled purple,
but others tan or light brown. The photo specimens, purchased from a
Latino market in Los Angeles, were 0.51 inch long, 0.32 inch wide and
0.31 inch thick.
Great Northern Beans -
A medium size (0.5 to 0.6 inch long dried) white bean mildly flavored and
reasonably firm. It's used for many North American bean recipes and as a
substitute for the smaller Navy Beans in Boston baked
beans. These beans are ideal for providing volume and a background for
other flavors, but if you want to feature bean flavor use red or pink beans.
Pre-soak 8-hrs, cook 1-1/4 hr (2-1/2 hours if not pre-soaked).
Green Beans, round -
[String beans, Snap beans]
"Green Beans" aren't always green, as you can see from the photo
specimens. The dark purple ones are fine raw in salads but if you are
going to cook them don't pay extra for the color - they come out green.
The yellow ones do remain yellow though.
Kidney Bean, Red - [Rajma (India)]
This fairly large bean is one of the most popular New World beans all
around the world. The photo shows very dark, standard and light
varieties, and yes, that's our "standard bean" at the top just left of
center. Kidney beans run about 0.68 inch long dried. The light and
very dark ones came from an Indian market but the standard ones are
sold everywhere. Both standard and light are available canned.
A cup of dried beans weighing
just under 1/2 pound soaked overnight will weigh 1 pound, which will be
the cooked weight. Cooked volume will be 3 cups. Cooking time for
presoaked beans is about 1-1/2 hours if they are less than a year old.
Old beans won't cook tender in 8 hours.
Kidney Bean, White - see Canellini Beans.
Manteca Beans - [Prim Bean,
Long grown in Chile, these beans have been getting a lot of attention
for their reported characteristics of being easily digestible and not
producing flatulence. A researcher, Dr. Colin Leakey, has developed a
hybrid version that can be grown in England, and it is much in the
news there. Here in California we can grow the regular ones. The
fartless feature is said to be the result of tannins in the seed coat.
The photo specimens, purchased at a large farmer's market in Pasadena,
California, were 0.47 inch long, 0.40 inch wide and 0.34 inch thick.
Navy Bean - [White bean,
Boston bean, Pea bean, Haricot blanc, Fagioli]
This name usually refers to a dried pure white bean about about .312 inch
long which is substantially smaller than the
Great Northern but similarly mild in flavor. These are the traditional
bean for Boston Baked Beans. Navy beans are ideal to provide volume and
act as a transport for featured flavors other than the beans. If you're
featuring bean flavor, use red or pink beans. Pre-soak 6-8 hrs, cook 1 hr
(2 hrs if not pre-soaked).
Peruvian Bean - [Canaria
bean, Maicoba bean, Azufrado bean]
This medium size bean can easily be told from white beans by it's smooth
shiny plumpness and distinctly greenish cast.
Pink beans taste a lot like Red Beans, but in our
tests they cooked a bit faster and broke up a lot more, indicating they have
thinner skins so are ideal for purées and other recipes where the beans
will be broken up. Pink beans have a deeper bean flavor than
White Beans so whites are better as a neutral
background and pink for more intense bean flavor.
Presoak 8 hrs, cook 1-1/4 hrs (2-1/2 hrs if not pre-soaked).
This bean is most familiar from Southwest / Mexican cooking - for
"refried beans" bean buritos, and the like. When cooked it loses its
mottled color and becomes a uniform pinkish color but has good strong
bean flavor. Presoak 8 hours - 1 cup beans needs about 1-3/4 cups of
water and will yield 2-1/2 cups of soaked beans.
Red beans have a much deeper bean flavor than white beans and are good
for recipes featuring beans. In my tests red beans were much firmer in the
same cooking time as the similar tasting Pink Beans
indicating reds have tougher skins, so use pink beans for purées or
where beans are broken up and red where firmer individual beans
are desired. Pre-soak 8 hrs, cook 1-1/4 hrs (if not pre-soaked, cook
Romano Bean - [Italian Flat Bean]
In North America, Romano Beans are almost always sold as a green
"snap beans", though yellow and purple varieties also exist. Flavor is
a little different from the round and flat string beans but not so
much as to prevent substitution - just be careful not to overcook as
romanos can become mushy. These beans can, of course, be allowed to
mature and dry but there's no point as there are plenty of other
average size white beans. As green beans, romanos fetch a premium
price. The photo specimens are above average in size, the largest
being 11-1/2 inches long, 1 inch wide and weighing just over 1 ounce.
Despite the size they were still quite tender.
[Dal, Dahl, Daal (India)]
"Dal" most often means the split and peeled form of a bean, pea or
lentil, but not always, and this ambiguity can make Indian recipes
difficult to interpret. Generally, if the recipe calls for soaking for
more than an hour before cooking, or cooking for more than an hour, it
means the whole unpeeled item (gram). If there is no soaking time
called for and the cooking time is less than an hour you can presume
the split and peeled form. Splitting and peeling shortens the needed
soak and cooking time drastically, makes the flavor more delicate and
the dish more refined in texture (no tough skins in it).
- Chana Dal - Chick Peas split and
- Chori Dal - peeled and split Chori (Azuki
- Chowli Dal - peeled and split Black-eyed
peas (not common).
- Dhana Dal - not a bean or lentil at all. The familiar round
coriander "seed" (which is actually a fruit containing seeds) is husked
leaving only the actual seeds, which are then roasted. The resulting
product has a unique and attractive flavor. Calling it "dal" was a
failed attempt to avoid taxes on spices.
- Masoor Dal - small salmon colored lentils,
peeled but may or may not be split. Interchangeable with
Egyptian Lentils (the common grocery store
"Red Lentil") which are somewhat larger. Both turn golden yellow when
- Moong Dal is the Mung Bean split and
peeled. With the dark green skin gone it is a light yellow-beige color.
Moong dal is one of the most used pulses in India.
- Toor Dal - Pigeon Peas, peeled and split.
Some versions are coated with oil as a preservative. The oil needs to be
washed off for use. Toor is one of the most widely used dal in India.
- Urad Dal is the black Urad Bean split and
peeled and is ivory white in color. Also called White Lentil.
- Val Dal is peeled and split Lablab Beans.
Fava Beans -
[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 North America, with
fresh increasingly available. Shelled beans are also available frozen,
both peeled and unpeeled. Frozen beans are tremendously more economical
(and more convenient too) than fresh beans in the pod.
Favas come in a range of sizes, the larger grown for human consumption
and the smaller, called "horse beans", mostly for animal feed. 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 been is smaller. The photo also shows large dried
favas both peeled and unpeeled (unpeeled is most common).
Details, Cooking and Health Notes.
Ful Beans -
[Ful Hamam, Fool (Egypt); Vicia faba alt Faba sativa]
These are actually a variety of Fava Bean that is small and round. We
break them out separately due to their importance for a single dish,
Ful Medamis, practically the "national dish" of Egypt, and popular in
surrounding countries as well. These beans are available dried and
canned, but soaking your own dried beans gives a much better result. The
photo shows soaked beans to the right, dry beans in the center and peeled
beans to the left. The peeled ones are used in soups and such, but they
aren't the right thing for Ful Medamis. The dried beans are up to 0.50
Details, Cooking and Health Notes.
[Methi (Hindi, Urdu, etc.); Shanbalileh (Persia); Hilbeh
(Arabic); Utakbo suneli (Georgia); Trigonella foenum-graecum,
also Trigonella cerulea]
These tiny aromatic beans are generally listed as a spice, but bean they
are. This plant, related to clover, has apparently been cultivated for
over 6000 years in the Middle East and was also well known to the ancient
Greeks and Egyptians.
In India fenugreek seed is toasted and included in a number of
important masalas (spice mixes) and it is also used in the
cuisines of the Middle East, Persia and Greece. The fresh green leaves
and stems are also used as an herb in these same regions, and dried
leaves in Georgia and India.
Fenugreek seed is also considered an important medicinal, particularly
for increasing lactation in nursing women.
Garbanzo Beans - Chick Peas
This term is used in India and generally means the whole unpeeled seed
of a bean, pea or lentil but is ambiguously used and may mean a peeled and
split seed, particularly in the case of "Yellow Gram".
Dal is the proper term for the peeled and split form but
can also be used ambiguously and may mean the whole unpeeled seed.
Horse Gram -
[Gahat, Kulath, Kulthi (Hindi); Kollu (Tamil); Ulavalu (Telugu)
kuthlee, Macrotyloma uniflorum]
This very small bean is little known in the West but is a major food crop in
arid parts of India. It's eaten as whole beans, sprouts and meal, and noted
for its distinctive earthy flavor. The name, however, comes from its wide use
as fodder for horses and cattle. A common method of use is to boil the gram
until done, drain off the liquid for human use and feed most of the drained
gram to the livestock. A small amount may go into the recipe with the liquid.
Horse gram cooking liquid is said to be useful for dissolving kidney stones
but no medical studies seem to be available.
Hyacinth Bean - see Lablab Beans.
- [Mexican Yam Bean, Saa Got (China),
man kaew (Thai), cu san (Viet), sankalu (Hindi), kuzu-imo (Japan),
singkamas (Philippine), bangkwang (Malay), Pachyrhizus erosus
& Pachyrhizus tuberosus (may be varieties of the same species)]
One of a few bean plants where a root tuber is the edible part, this
critter is pronounced HEE-ka-mah. Immature bean pods are cooked in some
countries but mature pods, beans, leaves and stalks are highly toxic. In
the U.S. only the root tubers are available. Not all Jicamas are distinctly
lobed like the examples shown (3-1/4 pounds, 7 inches across), they are
Erosus came from Mexico and tuberosus from the Amazon, but
they are now widely grown in the Philippines, China and India. The crisp,
white, mildly sweet flesh is most commonly just peeled and eaten raw, but in
the Orient it is often cooked. It retains its crispness but quickly absorbs
flavors from sauces and other ingredients.
- Ahipa - [Andean yam bean, Pachyrhizus
This plant has a similar root which is used similarly to Jicama, but
it's a shrub rather than a vine. It is little known outside
the Andes region and the West Indies where it was introduced.
- Goitenyo - [Amazonian yam bean, Jacatupe, Nupe,
This vine produces two or more root tubers that are used similarly to
Jicama but very unlike Jicama the leaves, pods and beans are also edible.
The beans and leaves are particularly high in protein
Jicama can be kept a couple of weeks unwrapped in a cool dry place, but
once cut should be used within a week. It won't really keep much longer
[Pueraria lobata alternately P. montana,
Known as "the plant that ate the South", Kudzu is an extremely fast
growing bean - as much as 12 inches per day! It was brought from southern
Japan to the southeastern U.S. for cattle forage and erosion control -
a move universally regretted, as it has taken over whole counties. It
smothers all the native vegetation including large trees (it can climb
over 90 feet) and is immune to common herbicides, which it seems to think
Kudzu is edible, the leaves are used as cooked greens, the flowers
battered and fried as squash flowers are, and the huge root tubers as
root vegetables and powdered as a thickening agent (called Japanese
arrowroot). The flowers produce a lot of nectar which is found desirable
by bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. The whole plant can
be used to manufacture ethanol and grazing animals are quite fond of the
leaves. All in all a very useful plant but currently under-utilized and
out of control - Southerners would rather complain about it than eat it.
Kabuli Chana (Kabli Chana) - Chick Peas
- [Val (India); Lablab purpureus alt Dolichos lablab ]
These beans probably originated in Southeast Asia and was carried to India
where it is quite popular, and on to Africa where it is also widely grown.
Beans of this type are easy to recognize by the very prominent seed scar
on one edge. Some varieties contain a fair amount of cyanide (they'll be
bitter), so need fairly long cooking to drive it off.
. This variety obviously gets its name from the bright purple color. It
is widely grown both for food and as an ornamental for its brilliant
purple flowers and pods (the ones in the photo are a bit faded).
The seeds are shown in several stages of maturing: green, starting
to turn color, and purple. The purple ones came from a dried pod, the
others from pods like those in the photo. The largest pod was 2-3/4
inches long and 15/16 inch across. The largest green bean was 0.63
inches long and the largest purple was 0.5 inches long, but would get
smaller when fully dry.
This variety is the most common commercial lablab bean in India. It has
white flowers, green pods and light colored seeds. The skin on the
beans is quite tough, so is generally peeled, so the most convenient for
cooking is the dal, which is already peeled.
The photo shows Val Dal (peeled and split) at the top, whole dried
Val, bottom left, fresh beans, bottom right and whole pods, right.
This is a smaller, darker variety common to the southern Indian state
of Karnataka. Because the skin is tough, this variety is often first
sprouted, then peeled. This is rather a hassle, but the flavor is very
The photo shows Kodava Val sprouted (left) and dried before sprouting
(right). In India beans are normally sprouted only as far as is shown,
not fully as in China.
- [Lens culinaris]
Probably originating in Turkey and/or Syria, these pulses are smaller
than most beans and disk shaped rather than bean shaped. Optical lenses take
their name from this shape. Lentils were one of the very first cultivated
crops, probably more than 9000 years ago, and are now grown worldwide with
varieties in different sizes and colors. They are commonly sold whole, peeled
and peeled and split. Cooking times are less than for beans, particularly in
dal (peeled and split) form so they are seldom soaked before cooking. In
India small beans of genus
Vigna are sometimes called "lentils".
Black Lentils -
These tiny lentils are similar to Puy Lentils but are
smaller and most are black rather than mottled, though a few mottled ones
are likely to be in the batch. They hold their shape well and become
shiny black when cooked, thus the name "beluga" after the black caviar.
They are particularly used as an ingredient in salads and soups. As with
many other lentils there are large and small varieties (actually small
and really small). The photo samples are a really small variety, about
0.12 inch / 3.0 mm diameter.
Brown Lentils - [Brewer
Lentils, U.S. Regular, Green Lentil, Continental Lentil]
This is your common grocery store lentil in the USA, available in
several sizes. It is most sold whole but also in the peeled and split
form which is a medium yellow color and called "Yellow Lentils". The
photo shows regular and small sizes, about 0.24 inch / 6.1 mm and 0.19
inch / 4.8 mm diameter, with the split and peeled form in between. If
you pre-soak whole lentils use 2 cups water to 1 cup lentils and
soak for about 3 hours. Do not presoak hulled and/or split lentils.
An inexact term but usually referring to either Masoor
Dal or Red Lentil, but sometimes to others
including Brown Lentils. The photo shows the
difference in size between red lentils (left) and masoor dal (right). Of
course masoor will cook faster but otherwise they are pretty
Similar to the Red Lentil but much smaller. It is
sold whole, peeled and peeled and split (masoor dal). Masoor dal is often
cooked mixed with rice because the cooking time is about the same. If a
recipe calls for masoor to be soaked at all it probably means whole masoor,
otherwise probably dal. Cooked masoor dal will turn a bright yellow color
as will red lentils. Size is about 0.15 inch / 3.8 mm diameter. Subst:
Red Lentils (larger, cook a touch longer).
Pardina Lentils -
While grown as a significant crop in the U.S. and Canada the largest
portion of production is exported to Spain where these lentils are
Puy Lentils - [French
green lentil; Verte du Puy (France)]
These small greenish brown mottled lentils from Puy France are
now grown in North America and Italy, but are still found mainly in
gourmet outlets at high prices. They are often used in salads and soups
because they stay firm and intact when cooked. The photo specimens are
about 0.19 inch / 4.8 mm diameter. Subst:Puy Lentils
don't interchange well with Brown Lentils which don't stay firm but
Black lentils, which seem closely related, are a
These lentils are similar to Masoor but larger.
The most popular cultivar in the U.S. and Canada is Red Chief. They are
almost always sold peeled and split to show off their salmon color.
Cooked red lentils will be a bright yellow color as will masoor dal. Size
is about 0.24 inch / 6.1 mm diameter.
Subst: Masoor dal (smaller, cooks faster).
A lentil from Mexico with mottled seeds, grown in semi-arid regions.
White Lentils (India) are not lentils at all, but rather the
split and peeled Urad Bean
Yellow Lentils are the peeled and split form of the regular
[Liquorice (UK), Glycyrrhiza glabra (European),
G. lepidota (American), G. uralensis (Chinese),
G. echinata (Russian)]
These plants are used mainly for a flavoring extracted from their roots, which
is used in sweets and medicines in the West and as a medicinal in China. This
extract is about 50 times as sweet a sucrose.
American "wild licorice" is less cultivated than the European, but is
marketed as a medicinal and as a flavoring. It is often used to sweeten
In excess, licorice can cause high blood pressure and is toxic to the
liver, but it seems unlikely normal licorice users could eat enough candy for
this toxicity to appear before they are done in by the other ingredients.
- [Butter Beans (UK, US
South), Sieva bean, Haba bean, Chad bean, Pallar bean, Burma bean,
Duffin bean, Hibbert bean, Java bean, Rangoon bean, Madagascar bean, Paiga,
Paigya, Phaseolus lunatus]
Lima beans are so called because Europeans first noticed them in Lima,
Peru, but they are now believed to have originated in Guatemala where a
wild variety has been found. The bean plants bears flat moderately curved
pods with from 2 to 4 seeds per pod. Limas range from the large "Fordhook"
variety grown in California to small cyanide laced varieties in the
Caribbean. The U.S. and some other countries allow growing only low cyanide
beans but many grown in Southeast Asia require thorough cooking to drive
off hydrogen cyanide gas.
The pods are often toxic and don't taste good so they are not used for food.
Limas are not much used in Europe because the warm growing climate required
is not available there. Lima beans are an excellent source of molybdenum, a
very good source of manganese and dietary fiber, and a good sources of
foliate, protein, potassium, iron, copper,
phosphorous, magnesium and thiamin
Lima Bean - Large Seed -
[P. lunatus var. limensis (formerly P. Limensis)]
Possibly originating in Venezuela and brought to the U.S. from Peru,
these beans were once the largest agricultural crop in California but
have been in decline - undeservedly in my opinion. "Fordhook" is
the dominant variety. These beans are widely grown but most production is
in California due to ideal weather. Available dried, frozen or canned
(previously dried). The photo shows dried and frozen fordhooks with our
famous dried red kidney bean for scale. The top center bean was 1.05 inches
long, 0.75 inches high and 0.4 inches thick.
Lima Bean - Small Seed - [Sieva bean,
Butterbean, Rangooni Val / Flat Val (India), P. lunatus var.
Probably originating in Guatemala, these were brought to North America
in pre-Columbian times and are grown mainly in the U.S. Southern States.
The seed is much smaller and flatter than the California Fordhook and may
be streaked with red or purple (Christmas, Florida Speckled, Jackson
Wonder). There is a variety called "Butter Pea" which is shaped more
like a pea than a bean. Locally available fresh.
Butter Bean - [Lima Bean,
P. lunatus var. lunonnus]
This is actually the same as "Lima Bean - Small Seed" above but a
purple - tan mottled variety marketed frozen as "Butter Beans" to
differentiate them from the green varieties. The flavor is pretty much
the same. The photo specimens were previously frozen and measure from
1/2 inch to 7/8 inches long.
Lima Bean - "Baby"
This is a confused term. These are not actually babies but are
fully mature beans. Most are cultivar Henderson or derivatives but
there are also dwarf versions of Fordhook (thicker seed). The original
Henderson, a small seed lima, was found growing by a roadside in
Virginia but most commercial production of "baby limas" is now in
California. Henderson derivatives Thorogreen and Thaxter predominate
along with some dwarf Fordhooks. Available frozen, dried or canned
Lupini Beans -
This large bean of Eastern Mediterranean origin has been cultivated since
prehistoric times, but today it's used mainly as a snack bean. You can find
them dried, or prepared and packaged in jars with salt and citric acid, in
markets serving Southern European communities. They are particularly popular
Making them edible is rather a chore, requiring days of soaking in
several changes of salted water to leach out the bitter toxins - much easier
to buy them in a jar ready to munch. They are quite firm and just a touch
bitter (go really well with beer). Some people strip off the outer skin but
I don't bother. The photo shows dried and prepared Lupinis, along with our
ever present dried red kidney bean for scale.
- [Matar (Hindi), Vatana
(Gurgarati), Pisum sativum]
Peas probably originated in Turkey and spread right along with neolithic
agriculture. They were first brought to the Americas by European explorers.
Peas are called "Fresh Peas" when sold fresh, canned or frozen,
"Field Peas" when dried and shelled.
Austrian Winter Peas
A rather small dark brown mottled pea grown as a minor crop in
Canada. They are a popular ingredient in pigeon food which is where those
in the photo came from. Size dry 100 to 160 miligrams, about 0.22 inch.
Green Peas - [English Peas,
English peas were once popular with home gardeners but have been largely
abandoned due to low yield in today's smaller gardens, but they are
extensively grown and marketed commercially.
As shown in the photo they are sold fresh in the pod, dried,
and peeled and split (dal). They are also sold canned (an abomination, but
necessary to accurately reproduce Soviet era Russian recipes), but the
greatest volume is sold fresh frozen, second best to fresh from the pod.
Mature fresh English peas are about 0.4 inch diameter and the pods are
commonly 4-1/2 to 5 inches long. Yield from a pound of fresh pods is
roughly 5.4 ounces (33%). Dried size is about 0.25 inch depending
on variety. 1 cup dried needs 2-1/2 cups of water and at least 8 hours
of soaking time.
Kala Vatana - [Black Peas]
These peas are called "Vatana" (Gujarati) rather than "Matar" (Hindi)
because that's the word for peas in Gujarati and these peas are little
known outside the states of Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra on the west
coast of India. Actually "matar" is the Marathi word for peas so perhaps
the Maharashtrians consider them an import.
I've had no trouble buying these peas but I haven't been able to find
any information on them except recipes so I'm not absolutely sure they
belong under P. sativum. In any case, when soaked they taste very
much like soaked green peas. These peas are exported as whole dry peas
only, do not readily peel or split, and will remain firm no matter how
long you cook them. They are often sprouted before cooking so as to be
less firm but my samples didn't sprout evenly. Subst: a person
very familiar with these peas was happy with
Puy Lentils as a substitute.
Maple Peas - [Black Peas,
Carlin Peas, Brown Badgers]
These dark brown mottled peas are cooked and eaten in Lancashire county,
England and not much anywhere else. They are commonly provided by mobile
food vendors at fairs and other events as "Black Peas", sometimes served
in cups with a little vinegar. Even in Lancashire they are of uneven
availability, mostly in October and November, but are also grown in
Canada as a minor crop. Boiled maple peas are considered a top carp
bait in England where carp fishing is popular. The photo specimens, sorted
from a bag of racing pigeon food, are about 0.25 inch / 6.4 mm, 240 to
260 mg. NOTE: Wikipedia and sites using info from there say
Lancashire Black Peas are the toxic Lathyrus niger
which is very wrong.
These olive green peas, somewhat larger than green peas, are cooked up
into a lumpy green paste in Northern England and served as "Mushy Peas",
often with fish and chips or as part of the snack "Pie and Peas". They
may also be served in cups with mint sauce as a snack at fairs and events.
These peas are also grown as a minor crop in Canada. Size dry 280 to 400
milligrams. Photo from Pulse
Pea sprouts are often used in stir fries in China and are now a feature
in California cuisine as well. They are available at farmer's markets and
in markets serving an Oriental community.
Snap Peas - [Sugar Snap,
These are edible pod peas but thick and round rather than flat as the
Snow Pea is. They have become popular not only for their good taste,
raw or lightly cooked but with gardeners because edible yield is so much
greater than English peas. Just trim off the stem end and the rest is
100% edible. Individual peas are 0.35 to 0.4 inch diameter and the
pods are generally about 3 to 3-1/2 inches long. The pod is sweeter than
that of the Snow Pea.
Snow Peas - [Sugar Pea;
Pois mange tout (France); hé lán dòu, shih chia
wan tou, ta li wan tou (Mandarin); sic kap woon dou (Cantonese); no
laan tau (Hong Kong); saya-endo (Japan); Macrocarpon group]
These edible pod peas are harvested when the pod is still very flat
and the seeds very immature. They are most used in stir fry dishes
associated with American Chinese cuisine, but less used in China.
Yellow Peas - [Canada Peas,
Pisum sativum typically cultivars like Century, Lenca.
This pea is a lighter colored variety of the green field pea and
tends to be grown in the more northern climates. It is traditional for
use in Scandinavian pea soup and in French Canadian pea soup, but for
authentic French Canadian soup you must use whole yellow peas, not split.
Some report difficulty finding whole peas but I've found them easily in
markets serving Indian and Russian communities, though the photo specimens
were sorted out of a bag of pigeon food (pigeons love peas more than
anything). NOTE: Wikipedia and sites getting their information
from Wikipedia list Yellow Peas as toxic Lathyrus aphaca which
is wrong - see Yellow Vetchling.
[earthnuts, ground nuts, goober peas, goobers;
Probably originating in Paraguay or Bolivia, this bean has been in
cultivation for about 7,600 years in Peru. The peanut plant has a unique
way of ripening its pods - forcing them underground at an early stage, where
they remain until the plant withers and dies. Then they sprout. Peanuts
are very nutritious and protective against a number of serious diseases.
Peanuts were carried from South America there to Africa, India and
Southeast Asia by European traders and became very popular in all those
regions. They were brought to North America from Africa, resulting in the
name "goober" (from Bantu nguba) in the American South.
Details and Cooking
Pigeon Peas -
[Gandule, Grandul, Alverja (Spanish); Guandu (Portugal); Toor, Tur,
Tuvar, Red Gram, Arhar (India); Congo Pea, Gunga Pea, No-eye Pea;
Pois d'Angole (France); Cajanus cajan]
Probably originating in India, pigeon peas were established in East Africa
thousands of years ago and were brought to the Caribbean with the slave trade.
They are now grown in all tropical and semi-tropical regions of the world
but until recently were almost unknown in the USA.
Pigeon peas are important in Africa, Caribbean and Central American
cuisines, and essential to the cuisines of southern India where Toor Dal
is the basic ingredient for sambars and many other dishes. The "red" in
Red Gram refers to the color of the flowers. The photo shows oiled dal
(peeled and split), dry dal, whole dried peas, whole fresh peas and
whole ripe pods. The whole dried are often sprouted
before cooking. Details &
Red Chori - see Adzuki Beans.
Red Gram - see Pigeon Peas.
Red Gram Dal - Pigeon Peas peeled
Runner Beans -
[Pole beans, Scarlet runner bean, Oregon lima bean; Ayocotl
(Nahuatl); Ayocote (Spanish); Gigantes (Greece);
Originating in the mountains of Central America, this bean is
now popular in Greece and Iraq. In North America it is grown mostly as
a decorative vine for its red flowers, and few know it is edible. For
some reason it is no longer as commonly used in Latin America as it
was in Pre-Columbian times.
Runner beans are perennial vines with edible starchy root tubers,
which are still eaten by some Central American Indians. These beans
usually have scarlet flowers, but the beans can be many colors. The
photo specimens are Ayocote Negro, or giant black bean. They were
typically 0.89 inch long, 0.49 inch wide and 0.36 inch thick. The
photo includes our ubiquitous red kedney bean for scale.
Sataw Bean -
[Twisted Cluster Bean, Stink Bean, Peteh (Indonesia), Petai (Malaysia),
Sa-taw / Sator (Thai), Nejire-fusamame (Japan), Yongchaak,
These bean, about the size and shape of large almonds, grow on large
Southeast Asian trees in clusters of long twisted flat pods - about 16
beans per pod. Their taste is often described as "medicinal", but actually
it's more like rubber cement - particularly the rubber cement we used to
patch inner tubes with back when tires had tubes. They are quite popular
in Southern Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia where the taste for
them has been acquired.
Very young pods are eaten as a vegetable in areas where the trees grow.
In northeastern India mature beans are dried for later use and will then be
black in color.
Details and Cooking.
- [Bhatt (India); Soya Bean (UK); Glycine max]
Soybeans are probably native to China and have been important to
agriculture there since the earliest times - but not as a food crop. The
beans were planted as a fallow field rotation crop to fix nitrogen and restore
fertility to the fields, then plowed under. The photo specimens include whole
fresh pods, fresh beans (edamame), dried white beans, black beans, and our
ever present red kidney bean for scale.
During the Chou Dynasty (1132-246 BCE)
techniques were developed to create soy sauce, miso and other soy products
detoxified by fermentation. A little later a method was developed to make a
soybean cheese from finely ground soybeans by precipitating solids with a
salt - the product we know as tofu. Most, (but not all) of the toxins are
discarded with the liquid. Fresh soybeans see limited use as appetizers and
soybean sprouts see considerable use but not so much as mung bean sprouts.
Contrary to popular belief in the US, Asians eat soy products, including
tofu and sprouts, only in moderation and not as a really significant part of
their diets. Soybeans themselves have only been eaten in times of famine.
The vast bulk of soybean production is used to produce oil which may be
used as cooking oil or for other purposes. This oil is high in polyunsaturates
so exposure to heat should be strictly limited. Once the oil has been
chemically extracted the solids left are used for animal feed and as the
basis for many modern soy products, some of controversial safety.
Sweet Peas & Vetchlings
- [genus Lathyrus]
This genus is mainly noted for decoratives, the most familiar of which
is the common Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus). The seeds of most plants
in this genus are fairly toxic and should not be eaten.
Black Pea - [Black Bitter
Vetch, Lathyrus niger]
This plant is NOT the Black Pea eaten at fairs in Lancashire county,
England, nor is it the Carlin Peas eaten nearby. It is listed here because
Wikipedia mistakenly lists Maple Peas as
Lathyrus niger which is wrong, and other sites have copied that
information. The pods turn black when mature and the seeds are tiny and
should not be eaten as they are fairly high in neurotoxins.
Grass Pea - [Khesari (India); Guaya (Ethiopia);
Blue sweet pea, Chickling vetch, Indian pea, Indian vetch, White vetch;
Almorta / Alverjon (Spain); Cicerchia (Italy); Lathyrus sativus]
Grass Pea grows well under drought conditions and is sometimes the only
food available in parts of Ethiopia, Pakistan, India and Nepal. It is
nutritious and high in protein, but contains a neurotoxin that causes
paralysis, particularly of the legs. People in affected areas can either
die now of starvation or risk living the rest of their lives as cripples,
not a comfortable choice.
The neurotoxin is not highly dangerous unless grass pea is a major part
of the diet for a period of time (30% to 40% for 2 to 6 months). That is
fortunate because in India and Nepal grass pea is often used as a cheap
adulterant in pigeon peas (Toor / Tuvar) or Bengal chick peas (Chana).
This is often as a dal (peeled and split) which is more difficult to
detect than with whole grass peas, or as flour (besan) which is just
about impossible to detect.
It is certain grass pea will continue to be used as human food
because nothing else grows satisfactorily under the same conditions,
so scientists are working to breed and distribute low neurotoxin
Yellow Vetchling - [Yellow
Pea, Yellow-flowered Pea, Lathyrus aphaca]
This plant is not significant for food but listed here because Wikipedia
mistakenly lists Yellow Peas as Lathyrus aphaca
which is wrong, and other sites have copied this information. This
vetchling produces seeds only about 3mm in size and only immature pods
should be eaten as mature seeds are fairly high in neurotoxins.
[Indian Date; Tamarindo (Spanish); Asam (Malay), Asem Jawa (Indonesia);
Imli, Amli, Chinch (India); Ma-kahm (Thai); Me (Viet); Puli (Tamil,
Malay); Tamarindus indica]
Native to tropical Africa and Madagascar, the tamarind tree was known to
the ancient Egyptians, and taken to India so long ago even botanists thought
it was native there. From India it was introduced to Persia and the Arab
world, thus Arabic "tamar hindi" (Indian date). It is now planted throughout
the tropics and sub-tropics including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean
and southern Florida. It is an important sweet/sour flavoring ingredient
in many cuisines. Details and Cooking.
Val - see Lablab Beans.
White Lentils - see Urad Beans peeled