There are many different types of beans of which all produce long pods, full of seeds. Beans can grow on bushes or climbing vines supported by poles. There are 3 stages at which they can be eaten. Common green beans are picked as young green crisp immature pods that can be snapped when bent and the entire pod can be eaten. Broad beans are the immature seeds picked from the pod and both the pod and the seeds can be eaten. Borlotti beans can be eaten when soft but are usually left to dry in the pods on the plant. Beans are high in vitamin c, fibre and folate.
There are many varieties of beans and they need to be picked at the right time to give you the optimal end result. They come in a variety of colours and forms.
- Green beans – Are 10-15cm long with green velvet like pods which are eaten when crisp and immature. They are best from December to May.
- Broad beans (or lima beans) – These beans can be eaten at all three stages. They are called broad beans when you eat the pods or split the immature pod and remove the soft beans. When you remove the dried beans from the pod, they are then called Lima beans. Broad beans are best from August to November.
- Italian flat beans – Have a longer pod that is about 1cm wide with a flat appearance. They are picked when immature and the pod and seeds are soft. They are best from September to January.
- Borlotti beans – Are a larger pod measuring about 15cm long. Inside the pod are reddish- brown mottled seeds that may be eaten soft or as dried hard seeds when allowed to mature on the plant. They are best from September to January.
- Butter beans – These are very similar to green beans in shape and size but they are a creamy yellow colour.
- Snake beans – Commonly used in Asian food, the snake beans pods are around 30cm in length and dark green in colour.
How to select and store beans
Beans are available year round but certain varieties have a season. When selecting beans, you should choose slender firm pods that are blemish free and bright in colour. Avoid beans that are overly mature with swollen pods and dull in colour.
Unwashed beans need to be kept in the vegetable crisper section of your refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Best ways to cook beans
Beans can be steamed, boiled, fried, and microwaved. Steaming and microwaving are the best cooking methods to preserve the nutrients.
How to cook green beans
- Trim the string from each pod by snapping the pointy tip with a knife and pulling away the string. Trim the other end and discard
- Cut each pod into the required size and into equal sized pieces for even cooking.
- They will take 3-5 minutes to boil, 5-8 minutes to steam and 3 minutes covered in the microwave with an additional 2 minutes standing time.
- Italian flat beans may take a while longer if you want them nice and soft – the best way to eat them.
If you will be eating your beans cold, it is best to immerse them in cold water after cooking so they can keep their colour.