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Phaseolus vulgaris
Plant with immature fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
Tribe: Phaseoleae
Genus: Phaseolus
Species: P. vulgaris
Binomial name
Phaseolus vulgaris

The common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, is an herbaceous annual plant domesticated independently in ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes, and now grown worldwide for its edible bean, popular both dry and as a green bean. The leaf is occasionally used as a leaf vegetable, and the straw is used for fodder. Botanically, the common bean is classified as a dicotyledon. Beans, squash and maize constituted the "Three Sisters" that provided the foundation of Native American agriculture. Beans are a legume and thus acquire their nitrogen through an association with rhizobia, a species of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. 18.3 million tonnes of dry common beans and 6.6 million tonnes of green beans were grown worldwide in 2007.[1] The other major type of beans is broad beans (Vicia faba), of which only 3.7 million tonnes were grown in 2007. The commercial production of beans is well-distributed worldwide with countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, Oceania, South and North America all among the top bean growers. Brazil and India are the largest producers of dry beans while China produces, by far, the largest amount of green beans, almost as much as the rest of the top ten growers altogether.[1]



Top Ten Dry Bean Producers
(million metric ton), 2007
 Brazil 3.2
 India 3.0
 Myanmar 1.7
 China 1.2
 United States 1.1
 Mexico 0.9
 Tanzania 0.5
 Kenya 0.4
 Argentina 0.4
 Uganda 0.3
World Total 18.3
Top Ten Green Bean Producers
(million metric ton), 2007
 China 2.47
 Indonesia 0.87
 Turkey 0.52
 India 0.42
 Spain 0.22
 Egypt 0.22
 Italy 0.19
 Morocco 0.18
 United States 0.12
 Belgium 0.11
World Total 6.61
Black beans and Kidney beans.

The common bean is a highly variable species with a long history. Bush varieties form erect bushes 20–60 cm tall, while pole or running varieties form vines 2–3 m long. All varieties bear alternate, green or purple leaves, divided into three oval, smooth-edged leaflets, each 6–15 cm long and 3–11 cm wide. The white, pink, or purple flowers are about 1 cm long, and give way to pods 8–20 cm long, 1–1.5 cm wide, green, yellow, black or purple in color, each containing 4–6 beans. The beans are smooth, plump, kidney-shaped, up to 1.5 cm long, range widely in color, and are often mottled in two or more colors.



The toxic compound lectin phytohaemagglutinin is present in many varieties, but is especially concentrated in red kidney beans. Although in the case of dry beans the ten minutes at 100 degrees Celsius required to degrade the toxin is much shorter than the hours required to fully cook the beans themselves, outbreaks of poisoning have been associated with the use of slow cookers whose low cooking temperatures may be unable to degrade the toxin. The British public health authority, PHLS, has recommended soaking kidney beans for 5 hours before cooking.[2] Sprouts of pulses high in haemaglutins (such as kidney beans) should not be eaten.[2][3]

Dry beans

Similar to other beans, the common bean is high in starch, protein and dietary fiber and is an excellent source of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid.

Dry beans will keep indefinitely if stored in a cool, dry place, but as time passes, their nutritive value and flavor degrade and cooking times lengthen. Dried beans are almost always cooked by boiling, often after having been soaked for several hours. While the soaking is not strictly necessary, it shortens cooking time and results in more evenly textured beans. In addition, discarding one or more batches of soaking water leaches out hard-to-digest complex sugars that can cause flatulence, though those who eat beans regularly rarely have difficulties with flatulence as intestinal microbes adjust. There are several methods including overnight soaking, and the power soak method, which is to boil beans for three minutes, then set them aside for 2–4 hours, then drain and discard the water and proceed with cooking. Common beans take longer to cook than most pulses: cooking times vary from one to four hours but are substantially reduced with pressure cooking.

In Mexico, Central America and South America, the traditional spice to use with beans is epazote, which is also said to aid digestion. In East Asia a type of seaweed, Kombu, is added to beans as they cook for the same purpose. Salt, sugar, and acidic foods like tomatoes may harden uncooked beans resulting in seasoned beans at the expense of slightly longer cooking times.

Dry beans may also be bought pre-cooked and canned as refried beans, or whole with water, salt, and sometimes sugar.

Green beans

Cut green beans
Green beans (snap beans)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 129 kJ (31 kcal)
Carbohydrates 7 g
Sugars 1.4 g
Dietary fiber 3.4 g
Fat 0.1 g
Protein 1.8 g
Vitamin A equiv. 35 μg (4%)
Vitamin C 16 mg (27%)
Calcium 37 mg (4%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

There are three commonly known types of green beans: string or runner beans, stringless or French beans (depending on whether the pod has a tough, fibrous "string" running along its length), and snap beans, with a thin flat pod that requires less cooking time. Compared to the dry beans, they provide less starch and protein, and more vitamin A and vitamin C. The green beans are often steamed, boiled, stir-fried, or baked in casseroles.

Shelling beans

Common beans can be used for shell (or shelling) beans, which have the pods removed before they are cooked or dried. The term can be used to refer to other species of beans, such as lima beans, soybeans, peas, or fava beans, that have their shell removed before it is eaten. Nutritionally, shell beans are similar to dry beans, but in the kitchen are treated as a vegetable, often steamed, fried, or made into soups.

Popping beans

The nuña is an Andean subspecies, Phaseolus vulgaris subsp. nunas (formerly Phaseolus vulgaris (Nuñas Group)), with round multicolored seeds that resemble pigeon eggs. When cooked on high heat, the bean explodes, exposing the inner part, in the manner of popcorn and other puffed grains.


Diversity in dry common beans

Many well-known bean varieties belong to this species, and none of the lists below are in any way exhaustive. Both bush and running (pole) varieties exist. The colors and shapes of pods and seeds vary tremendously.


The Anasazi bean (aka Aztec bean, Cave bean, New Mexico Appaloosa) is a bean native to the North American Southwest.

Black beans

Black Turtle Beans

The small, shiny black turtle bean is especially popular in Latin American cuisine, though it can also be found in Cajun and Creole cuisines of South Louisiana. It is often called simply the black bean (frijol negro in Spanish, feijão preto in Portuguese), although this can cause confusion with other black beans.

The black turtle bean has a dense, meaty texture and flavor reminiscent of mushrooms, which makes it popular in vegetarian dishes such as the Mexican-American black bean burrito. It is a very popular bean in various regions of Brazil, and is used in the national dish, feijoada. It is also a principal ingredient of Platillo Moros y Cristianos in Cuba, is a must-have in the typical gallo pinto of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, is a fundamental part of Pabellón Criollo in Venezuela, and is served in almost all of Latin America as well as many Hispanic enclaves in the United States. The black turtle bean is also very popular for making into soups, which are often eaten with Cuban crackers.

Black turtle beans have recently been reported to be an extremely good source of nutritional antioxidants.[4]

Black turtle bean varieties include:

  • Black Magic
  • Blackhawk
  • Domino
  • Nighthawk
  • Valentine

Cranberry and Borlotti beans

Fresh borlotti beans

Cranberry beans originated in Colombia as the cargamanto.[5] The bean is a medium large tan bean, splashed with red/black to magenta streaks.

Borlotti beans, also known as roman beans or romano beans (not to be confused with Italian flat beans, a green bean also called "romano bean"), are a variety of cranberry bean bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. It is very popular in Italian, Portuguese and Turkish cuisine.

Pinto beans look the same as cranberry and borlotti beans, but differ in taste.

Pink beans

Pink beans are small oval-shaped beans, pale pink in color, also known by the Spanish name Habichuelas Rosadas.[6] The most famous pink bean is the Santa Maria pinquito (spanglish = pink and small(ito)), which is commercially grown on the mesas above Santa Maria, California, and is a necessary ingredient in Santa Maria Tri-tip barbecue.

Pinto or mottled beans

Pinto beans

The pinto bean (Spanish: frijol pinto, literally "painted bean") is named for its mottled skin (compare pinto horse), hence it is a type of mottled bean. It is the most common bean in the United States[7] and northwestern Mexico,[8] and is most often eaten whole in broth or mashed and refried. Either whole or mashed, it is a common filling for burritos. The young pods may also be used as green beans.

In the southwest United States, the pinto bean is an important symbol of regional identity, especially among Mexican Americans. Along with the chile/chilli, it is one of the official state vegetables of New Mexico (under the name frijol). The prepared beans are commonly known as frijoles. This type of bean is also referred to as "Cowboy Beans" in Texas, all along the Mexican border and wherever Mexican cowboys were employed. In areas where Mexican cowboys did not travel on the trails north from Texas, it was probably not known.

This is the bean most commonly used for refried beans (fresh or canned) and in many dishes at Tex-Mex restaurants. Rice and pinto beans served with cornbread or corn tortillas are often a staple meal where there is limited money for meat; the amino acids in this combination make it a complete protein source. This variety is often used in chili con carne, although the kidney bean, black bean, and many others may also be used in other locales (see below).

In the southeastern part of the United States, pinto beans were once a staple of the poor (usually eaten with cornbread, milk, and cabbage), especially during the winter months. Some churches in rural areas still sponsor "pinto bean suppers" for social gatherings and fund raisers.

Alubia pinta alavesa

The alubia pinta alavesa, or the "Álava pinto bean", is a red variety of the pinto bean that originated in Añana,[9] a town and municipality located in the province of Álava, in the Basque Country of northern Spain. In October, "la Feria de la alubia pinta alavesa" (the fair of the Alubia pinta alavesa) is celebrated in Pobes.[10]

Pinto bean varieties include:

  • Burke
  • Othello
  • Maverick
  • Sierra

Studies have indicated that pinto beans can help reduce cholesterol levels.[11][12]

Red or kidney beans

Red kidney beans
Kidney beans, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,393 kJ (333 kcal)
Carbohydrates 60 g
Sugars 2 g
Dietary fiber 15 g
Fat 1 g
Protein 24 g
Water 12 g
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.8 mg (16%)
Folate (Vit. B9) 394 μg (99%)
Calcium 143 mg (14%)
Iron 8 mg (64%)
Magnesium 140 mg (38%
Zinc 3 mg (30%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

The kidney bean otherwise called 'the chili bean' with its dark red skin is named for its visual resemblance to a kidney. The kidney bean is also known as the red bean, although this usage can cause confusion with other red beans. Red kidney beans (rājmā in Hindi and Punjabi) are an integral part of the cuisine in northern region of India. Red kidney beans are universally used in New Orleans and much of southern Louisiana for the classic Monday Creole dish of red beans and rice. They are a common ingredient in chili con carne. The smaller, darker red beans are also used, particularly in Louisiana families with a recent Caribbean heritage. Some say they have a smoother taste. Small kidney beans used in La Rioja, Spain, are called Caparrones.

Shell beans

Cornucopia lists 37 varieties of shell beans. The light green Flageolet bean is revered in France and soon the heirloom Chevrier will come under a controlled label reminiscent of the wine "Appellation d'Origine Controllée" called "Label Rouge". A number of other beans are already produced under this label.

Flageolet bean varieties include:

  • Chevrier (the original heirloom)
  • Elsa
  • Flambeau
  • Flamingo

White beans

Cannellini beans

The small, white navy bean, also called pea bean or haricot, is particularly popular in Britain and the US, featured in such dishes as baked beans and even pies, as well as in various soups such as the famous Senate Bean Soup.[13]

Navy bean varieties include:

  • Great Northern beans
  • Rainy River
  • Robust
  • Michelite
  • Sanilac

Other white beans include Cannellini, a quite popular variety in Central and Southern Italy which is related to the kidney bean and like the kidney bean has higher levels of the toxin lectin (Phytohaemagglutinin).

Yellow beans

Sinaloa Azufrado, Sulphur, Mayocoba, and Peruano (also called Canary) are types of yellow beans.

Peruano beans (also called Canary beans) are small, oval, yellow colored beans about 1/2 inch (1 cm) long with a thin skin. Peruano Beans have a creamy texture when cooked, and are one of the top-selling beans in Mexico City since 2005 (being native to Mexico, despite the name).

See also


  1. ^ a b FAOSTAT, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, accessed November 5, 2009
  2. ^ a b "Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook: Phytohaemagglutinin". Bad Bug Book. United States Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 2009-07-11.  
  3. ^ "Kidney Beans". The world's healthiest foods. Retrieved 2007-11-05.  
  4. ^ Choung MG, Choi BR, An YN, Chu YH, Cho YS. Anthocyanin profile of Korean cultivated kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Nov 19;51(24):7040-3. Retrieved 2006-08-06.
  5. ^ Sando, Steve; Barrington, Vanessa (2008). Heirloom Beans. Chronicle Books. p. 15. ISBN 978-0811860697.  
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Recetas para acordarse de sabores perdidos: "Añana. Es el origen de la alubia pinta alavesa y, como tal, esta legumbre pesa en su cocina. Ya sea en cocido, crema o sopa. El queso Idiazábal o el conejo son otros de sus manjares." (Spanish)
  10. ^ Algunas de las ferias tradicionales en Euskadi: "La Feria de la alubia pinta alavesa, que se celebra en octubre en la localidad de Pobes." (Spanish)
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Senate Bean Soup.

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