Beans belong to the legume family, which are vegetables that are the seeds of plants having pods.
Types found at local stores include Great Northern beans, kidney beans, lentils, black-eyed peas or cowpeas, green split peas, pinto beans, large lima beans, baby lima beans, navy beans, black turtle beans and garbanzos or chickpeas.
Kidney beans, often used in chili, also are great in soups, DeVries says. She says she tosses beans in salads, soups and pasta dishes for added protein.
Many types of beans are interchangeable, says Lynn F. Little, an extension agent in home economics with University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service.
You can experiment with different varieties in your recipes, she says.
"It's important to go in with an open mind," Little says. "You may or may not like the result."
Remember to follow the instructions on the package, she says.
Canned or dry?
Canned beans also can be considered dry beans.
The term "dry beans" is used in the industry to classify varieties other than green beans and soybeans, DeVries says.
Dry beans are available uncooked in sealed bags or precooked in cans.
In terms of nutritive value, there's not much difference between canned and dry beans, Little says.
Canned beans may contain more sodium because they have been processed, and they may be more expensive.
Counting the beans
Beans increase in popularity each year, DeVries says.
"We're planting more and consuming more," she says.
The United States is the world leader in bean production. Each year U.S. farmers plant between 1.5 million and 1.7 million acres of edible dry beans.
Each American eats about 7.5 pounds of beans per year, according to Bean Education and Awareness Network.
Beans also are the choice of champions.
Professional football players, figure skaters and U.S. Olympic team members all include beans on their athletic training tables to help them reach peak performance.
Bean Education and Awareness Network offers the following hints for preparing dry beans:
- Soak before cooking. Soaking softens the beans and reduces the cooking time. It also allows some of the gas-causing substances to dissolve, making the beans easier to digest.
- For every pound of beans, add 10 cups of hot water. Be sure the pot is large enough, because most beans will rehydrate to three times their dry size.
- Heat to boiling, then let boil two or three minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for at least one hour, but preferably for four hours or more. Discard the water used for soaking the beans.
- One pound of dry packaged beans equals two cups of dry beans or six cups of cooked beans.
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- A 1/2-cup serving of cooked beans has 115 calories.
- Cooking dry packaged beans on the stovetop is one of the fastest methods. Dry packaged beans take from 30 minutes to two hours to cook. Most recipes will tell you approximately how long it takes.
- For each pound of dry packaged beans, a tablespoon of cooking oil may be added to reduce foaming and boilovers. Olive oil, butter or margarine also can be used for more distinctive flavors. If the water foams, skim it off once or twice.
- When cooking dry packaged beans, it is convenient to cook more than needed for immediate use, as the extra cooked beans are easy to store.
- If they are packaged in moisture-proof and vapor-proof containers, beans may be kept in the freezer for up to six months.
- Bean dishes may be kept about four or five days when refrigerated.
- Teri Johnson, Staff Writer