Califonia Bountiful

Take 5: The benefits of beans

January/February 2022 California Bountiful magazine

Economical, filling and delicious, the humble bean is also versatile and nutritious. Beans can serve as the main ingredient in a hearty side dish, entrée or even dessert. Hailed for their health properties, they are packed with protein, fiber and antioxidants and help lower LDL cholesterol and control blood sugar. Paired with a grain such as rice, bread or a corn tortilla, they make a complete protein. The soil and climate of California provide ideal conditions for growing high-quality beans. Here are a few grown by farmers in the Golden State.

1. Kidney bean

When it's cold outside, there's nothing quite like a bowl of hot chili—and kidney beans are one of the most-used beans in traditional recipes. Enjoy the chili plain or sprinkled with cheese or put a scoop on a hot dog or baked potato. Large, firm and dense, kidney beans hold up well and give extra texture to soups and saucy dishes. They also absorb spicy flavors well. Always cook the beans thoroughly because undercooked or raw kidney beans can cause stomach upset.


2. Cranberry bean

With a mild, sweet and creamy flavor often compared to chestnuts, this bean is one of the most versatile. It's perfect for pastas and salads or any dish calling for an understated flavor that blends in rather than competes with other ingredients. They also make an ideal addition to a mixed bean soup. Cranberry beans resemble pinto beans, except they are often splashed or streaked with red or magenta, but often lose their distinct coloring when cooked. Also called Roman beans, they are popular in Italy.


3. Pinto bean

Earthy and nutty, the pinto bean is the most widely grown bean in the United States and among the most popular. From bean dips to burritos to refried beans, mashed pinto beans have become a staple in the typical California diet. But they are just as good cooked whole. Slow cook them with onion, garlic or hot pepper seasoning for a savory and satisfying entrée.


4. Garbanzo bean

Also called chickpeas, garbanzo beans have been a common ingredient in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean for thousands of years. They have a neutral, mild and nutty flavor that can sneak protein into a salad. But they also do well in Indian curries and other bold-flavored, savory entrées. Having a party and want to serve a guilt-free snack? Whip up some hummus to pair with cut veggies or whole-wheat pitas.


5. Pink bean

A relative of the kidney bean, the pink bean has a small oval shape and pale pinkish skin and a rich, meaty flavor. Popular in Caribbean countries, pink beans are used in a variety of staple recipes, such as Caribbean rice and beans. Traditional dishes sometimes combine bold flavors such as red pepper, garlic and onion with the sweetness of coconut milk or plantains. This bean variety is also popular in Southern cooking for making sweetened baked beans.


Wary of beans' "musical fruit" reputation? Soaking, pressure cooking and adding certain spices are touted as effective for aiding in digestion.

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