Beans 101: Types, Cultivation, History, Production, and More

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 2, 2022

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Come on, you’ve had beans before. But probably more often than you realize because there are a lot of types.

Beans are a legume fruit of the m Phaseolus species. They’re usually dried and eaten as part of a meal. The term bean is applied to a number of species of the genus Phaseolus as well as related species of the genera Vigna and Faba.

In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about beans, including their nutritional value, health benefits, and how to cook them.

What are beans

Understanding Beans: A Comprehensive Guide

What Exactly are Beans?

Beans are a type of legume that belongs to the family Fabaceae. They are technically classified as fruit, but are usually referred to as vegetables. Beans are typically collected as seeds that develop inside pods, which can come in different types and sizes depending on the bean variety.

The Different Types of Beans

The bean family includes a wide range of plants, and there are many different types of beans available. Some of the most common types of beans include:

  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans

The Nutritional Value of Beans

Beans are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are packed with protein and are a great source of complex carbohydrates. Some of the key nutrients found in beans include:

  • Vitamin B
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium

Beans are also a good source of antioxidants, which can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

The Health Benefits of Beans

Including beans in your diet can have a number of health benefits, including:

  • Helping to reduce cholesterol levels
  • Helping to regulate blood sugar levels
  • Serving as a healthy substitute for meat in many dishes
  • Helping to promote weight loss due to their high fiber content

Cooking and Preparing Beans

Beans can be cooked in a variety of ways, including boiling, baking, and frying. Some people prefer to buy canned beans, while others prefer to soak and cook dry beans. When cooking beans, it’s important to fully cook them to avoid any digestive issues.

Using Beans in Traditional Dishes

Beans are a common ingredient in many traditional dishes from around the world, including:

  • Chili
  • Refried beans
  • Hummus
  • Falafel
  • Bean soup

The Difference Between Beans and Other Legumes

While beans are a type of legume, not all legumes are beans. Legumes are a category of plants that includes beans, peas, and lentils. The main difference between beans and other legumes is that beans are typically collected as dry seeds, while other legumes are usually eaten fresh.


Etymology and Cognates

The word “bean” has cognates in many Germanic languages, including Old English bēan, Old Norse baun, and Middle Dutch bone. The term “bean” existed in West Germanic languages before the 12th century, referring broadly to any legume, including peas. The new bean was known to be in contact with Europe in the 16th century and extended to a variety of beans, including the runner bean, related to the broad bean and generally similar to the old world beans. Slighter beans include coffee, vanilla, castor, and cocoa beans, which refer to a host of different plants. Some words are interchangeable, and the term “bean” varies among English-speaking countries. In the United Kingdom, beans are usually reserved for the Vigna and Phaseolus genera, whereas in the United States, it is applied to many species, including legumes such as peanuts (Arachis hypogaea). The term “grain” is often used to exclude legumes, including the tiny seeds of the clover plant (Trifolium spp.), which are often used exclusively for forage, hay, and silage purposes.

Botanical Classification

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines a code of practice applicable to the trade of beans, which is narrower in scope than the definition used by many culinary experts. The FAO code only applies to the genus Phaseolus, whereas culinary experts often include species from other genera, such as Vigna and Lathyrus. The FAO code also excludes some leguminous crops that are sometimes called beans, such as soybeans and peanuts, which have a separate code of practice for trade regulations. In botany, the term “bean” is used to refer to plants in the family Fabaceae, which coexist with natural languages and narrow the term to a specific group of plants. In fact, tomatoes are botanically treated as fruits, but they are often referred to as vegetables in culinary contexts.

Examples of Bean Species

There are many different species of beans, including those in the genus Phaseolus, such as the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), kidney bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), and navy bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Other species include the adzuki bean (Vigna angularis), black gram (Vigna mungo), mung bean (Vigna radiata), and moth bean (Vigna aconitifolia). These species were classified later in a taxonomic revision, and some were entirely new to science. The runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) is related to the common bean but is generally grown for ornamental purposes rather than for its edible seeds.

Types of Beans

Common Types of Beans

Beans come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Here are some of the most common types of beans:

  • Black beans: A staple in Latin American and Creole cuisines, black beans are known for their pleasant taste and nutritionally dense properties. They are a good source of folate and can be substituted for meat in vegan dishes.
  • Chickpeas: Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are increasingly popular in American cuisine. They have a mild, creamy flavor and are a good source of protein and fiber.
  • Kidney beans: These large, red beans are a popular ingredient in chili and other Southern dishes. They are a good source of iron and can be substituted for pinto beans in many recipes.
  • Navy beans: Also known as great northern beans, navy beans are a traditional ingredient in baked beans and other dishes. They have a thin, white coat and a mild flavor.
  • Pinto beans: These beige and speckled beans are a staple in Mexican cuisine. They have a creamy texture and a slightly nutty flavor.

Regional and Specialty Beans

In addition to the common and less common types of beans, there are also many regional and specialty varieties that are worth seeking out:

  • Black-eyed peas: These are a type of cowpea that is often eaten in the Southern United States. They have a beige coat with a black spot and a slightly sweet flavor. They are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck.
  • Cannellini beans: Also called white kidney beans, cannellini beans are a staple in Italian cuisine. They have a creamy texture and a slightly nutty flavor.
  • Lima beans: These large, creamy beans are a staple in Southern cuisine. They have a slightly sweet flavor and are often cooked with ham or in a broth.
  • Red beans: These are a type of kidney bean that is often used in Creole cuisine. They have a dark, red color and a slightly sweet flavor.
  • Soybeans: These are the beans that are used to make tofu and soy milk. They have a nutty flavor and are a good source of protein and vitamins.
  • Kabuli chickpeas: Also called garbanzo beans, kabuli chickpeas are a larger, lighter-colored variety of chickpea. They are often roasted and eaten as a snack in the Middle East.

No matter the type of bean, they are a valuable source of nutrition and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Canned beans are the easiest to prepare, but traditional methods like soaking and slow cooking can also be used. Beans can be used as a substitute for meat in many dishes and are a staple in vegan and vegetarian diets. So next time you talk beans, you’ll know your stuff!


Geographical Distribution

Beans are cultivated all around the world, from Brazil to Tanzania. They belong to the Vicia and Faba genera and are ready to harvest unlike other closely related crops. Beans are a summer crop and need warm temperatures to grow. They are capable of nitrogen fixation, which means they don’t require fertilizer.

Growth and Maturity

Beans typically turn yellow when they reach maturity. This change happens inside the bean and doesn’t affect the external form. To harvest beans, special attention needs to be paid to their maturity. Native Americans customarily grew beans alongside corn and squash, with the tall cornstalks acting as a natural trellis for the beans to climb.

Recent Developments

In recent years, bush beans have been developed that require less space and can be grown simultaneously as opposed to pole beans. This makes them more practical for commercial cultivation. Beans can be grown in the coldest and snowiest regions, but they are frost-sensitive.

Folklore and History

Beans have a rich folklore and history. According to Native American legend, beans are a gift from the gods and symbolize the three sisters: corn, squash, and beans. Beans were also believed to have magical properties and were used in divination.

Growing Guides and Pests

Today, there are many resources available to help with growing beans, including webcams, planners, and monthly guides. Beans are susceptible to pests and diseases, so it’s important to monitor them closely. They are a versatile vegetable and can be used in a variety of dishes, from soups to salads.

Health and Wellness

Beans are a great source of protein and fiber and have been linked to numerous health benefits, including lower blood sugar levels and reduced risk of heart disease. They are also a popular ingredient in vegan and vegetarian diets.

Recipes and Preservation

Beans can be canned or pickled for long-term preservation. They are also a versatile ingredient in many recipes, from chili to hummus.

The History of Beans

Origins and Evolution

Beans have been a staple food for humans for thousands of years. They are believed to have originated in Peru and were first cultivated alongside maize and squash. The three crops were known as the “Three Sisters” because they were grown together in a mutually beneficial way. Beans evolved from small plants that were gathered in the wild in Afghanistan and the Himalayan region. They were also found in Thailand in a form predating the seventh century BCE. The ancient Greeks and Romans appear to have deposited beans with the dead, and they are mentioned in the Iliad. Chickpeas were also known in ancient times and were threshed with a flail, as described in the Bible.

Spread and Traditional Uses

Beans were introduced to the Americas by the time of the Guitarrero archaeological site, which is dated to around 10,000 BCE. Genetic analyses subsequently showed that beans were widely distributed in the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Native American people grew lima, sieva, and tepary beans, as well as scarlet runner and polyanthus beans. These beans were used in traditional dishes and were an important source of protein. Beans were also grown in Africa and Asia and were a staple food for many people.

Methods of Planting and Growing

Beans are a versatile plant that can be grown in many different ways. In the northern United States, they are often grown on trellises to provide support and to save space. The trellis also provides a slight shelter from the sun and shade for the soil. This can reduce the amount of water needed and deter pests from attacking the plants. Beans have hairy vines and stiff leaves that can be uncomfortable for deer, raccoons, and crows to walk on. Beans were traditionally planted in rows fashion, with each plant separated at the base. This method of planting allowed for the development of cornstalks to work as a trellis and provide nitrogen to the soil.

Modern Uses and Consumption

Today, beans are a popular food around the world. They are used in a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to salads and dips. Beans are also a good source of protein and fiber, making them a healthy addition to any diet. In addition to their nutritional value, beans are also an important crop for farmers. They can be grown in many different climates and are a valuable source of income for many people. Beans are also widely available in grocery stores and can be purchased dried or canned.


  • Wikipedia (Beanbean, History of Beans)
  • Annibale Carracci’s painting “The Beaneater” (Wikimedia Commons)

Bean Production

Global Production of Beans

Beans are a major crop worldwide, with different cultures developing a multitude of products from them. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that the worldwide production of dry beans in 2019 was 27.1 million tonnes. The largest producers of beans are Brazil, Tanzania, and India. The following countries are also major producers of beans:

  • Canada
  • Nigeria
  • Russia
  • Ethiopia
  • Australia
  • China
  • Mexico
  • Kenya
  • Argentina
  • Uganda

Bean Production Process

The production of beans requires quality seeds, delivery, and extension services to farmers. The process of bean production involves the following steps:

1. Planting: Beans are planted in pods, which develop from flowers that are eventually fertilized by insects such as bees. The development of pods takes about two weeks, and the plants continue to produce pods for several weeks.

2. Maturation: Beans mature at different rates, with some pods containing mature seeds while others still have immature fruits. The pods are harvested when the majority of the seeds are mature.

3. Harvesting: The pods are harvested by hand or machine. The beans are then separated from the pods.

4. Processing: The beans are processed to remove the shell and other impurities.

5. Packaging: The beans are packaged and transported to the market.

Bean Production in North America

In North America, the largest bean-growing regions are in North Dakota and Minnesota. The Northarvest Bean Growers Association represents growers in these areas, who produce beans on a large scale for consumption as well as for cash. Beans are also grown in other areas of the United States, including California, Michigan, and Nebraska.

In Canada, beans are grown in different regions, including Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba. Beans are also grown in other countries, including Russia, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.

Bean Cropping Systems

Bean cropping systems vary depending on the region and the type of bean being grown. Greg, a cropping systems specialist, and Hans, an agronomist, have published data on the different cropping systems used in bean production. The most common bean species grown worldwide is Phaseolus vulgaris. Beans are grown in high-density systems in some areas, while in others, they are grown in rotation with other crops.

Bean Consumption

Beans are consumed in different ways worldwide, including as vegetables, in soups, and as a side dish. They are also used as animal feed, especially for horses. The demand for beans is driven by their nutritional value and their versatility in cooking. The FAO calculates that the aggregate consumption of beans in 2019 was 25.9 million tonnes. The symbol P, F, and C are used to calculate the nutritional value of beans.

Common Genera and Species

Legume Family

Beans belong to the legume family, which contains primarily herbaceous plants but also woody vines. This family contains a fraction of the regular beanmarket, with gene banks holding a wide variety of beans. Depending on their homelands, beans are distributed worldwide and eaten in many different ways.

Genus Phaseolus

The kidney bean is probably the most well-known bean in the genus Phaseolus. It is a staple food in many cultures and is eaten both shelled and dried. Other beans in this genus include:

  • Borlotti beans, which are naturalized in many locations and lead similar names in different countries. Their probable homeland is in the Americas, and they are primarily cultivated in a warm climate.
  • Runner beans, which are also known as pole beans or climbing beans. They are annual vines that require a minimum temperature for proper cultivation and are ideally cooked before eating.
  • Flat beans, which are also known as Romano beans. They are eaten both shelled and dried and are a common ingredient in Italian cuisine.
  • Tepary beans, which are native to certain arid locations in the Americas. They are drought-resistant and can be eaten both shelled and dried.

Other Genera

Other common genera of beans include:

  • Vigna, which includes the yardlong bean, adzuki bean, and black-eyed pea. The moth bean is also in this genus and is primarily cultivated in India.
  • Cajanus, which includes the pigeon pea. It is a staple food in many parts of the world and can be eaten both fresh and dried.
  • Lens, which includes the Puy lentil. It is primarily cultivated in France and has a unique flavor.
  • Cicer, which includes chickpeas. They are a common ingredient in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine and can be eaten both fresh and dried.
  • Glycine, which includes soybeans. They are a major source of protein and are used in many different food products.
  • Macrotyloma, which includes the horse gram. It is primarily cultivated in India and is used in traditional medicine.
  • Mucuna, which includes the velvet bean. It contains smaller amounts of a psychoactive compound that can cause itching and rashes in some people.
  • Lupinus, which includes the Andean lupin. It is primarily cultivated in the Andes and is used in traditional medicine.

Bitter Beans

Certain beans, such as fava beans, contain high levels of a compound called vicine, which can cause a condition called favism in some people. This condition can lead to anemia and other health problems. Other beans, such as the lima bean, contain a compound that can cause prolonged cooking times and should be cooked correctly to reduce the risk of illness.

Other Bean Species

Other bean species include:

  • Arachis, which includes the peanut. It is a common snack food and is used in many different food products.
  • Ceratonia, which includes the carob tree. Its seeds are used to make a chocolate substitute.
  • Canavalia, which includes the sword bean and jack bean. They are primarily cultivated in Brazil and are used as a food source and for their gum.
  • Cyamopsis, which includes the guar bean. Its gum is used in many different food products.
  • Lablab, which includes the hyacinth bean. It is primarily cultivated in Africa and Asia and is used as a food source.
  • Psophocarpus, which includes the winged bean. It is primarily cultivated in Southeast Asia and is used as a food source.


Nutritional Properties

Beans are a great source of nutrition and are available in a variety of forms. They are free from cholesterol and contain little total fat, sodium, and saturated fat. They are also rich in potassium and magnesium, which provide numerous health benefits. Some of the key nutritional properties of beans include:

  • Low in calories and high in fiber, making them an excellent food for weight management and reducing the risk of obesity.
  • Rich in phytochemicals, which have potential health benefits, including reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
  • High in protein, making them an excellent source of nutrition for vegetarians and vegans.

Health Benefits

Beans have been associated with numerous health benefits, including:

  • Lower risk of incident and mortality in the general population, especially in relation to heart disease.
  • Lower risk of childhood overweight and obesity.
  • Potential to reduce the risk of diabetes, especially in communities with a high prevalence of obesity.
  • Potential to reduce visceral adiposity and serum concentrations of triglycerides and cholesterol.

Production and Cost

Beans are a common food crop and are produced in many countries around the world. The production of beans can be costly, especially in areas with poor soil quality or limited access to water. However, beans are generally a cost-effective food source and are widely available in most jurisdictions.

Research and Recommendations

Recent research published in MDPI and other institutional maps has shown that beans may have a positive impact on human health. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the DASH eating plan both recommend the consumption of beans as part of a healthy diet. Some of the key findings from recent research include:

  • The link between beans and lower risk of incident and mortality in the general population.
  • The potential health benefits of phytochemicals found in beans, including reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • The best predictors of obesity and the relationship between beans and weight management.

Flatulence: The Musical Fruit

Understanding Flatulence and Beans

Beans are a type of carbohydrate that is poorly digested by humans. When they reach the large intestine, bacteria break them down, resulting in gas production. This gas is a byproduct of bacterial digestion and can cause bloating, discomfort, and flatulence.

The Best Ways to Deal with Flatulence

If you’re looking for ways to deal with flatulence after eating beans, there are a few things you can try:

  • Probiotic supplements: Depending on the cause of your flatulence, probiotic supplements may help reduce gas production by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
  • FODMAP diet: If you’re affected by FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols), removing high FODMAP foods from your diet may improve symptoms of bloating and gas.
  • Try different types of beans: Some beans, such as pinto beans, are relatively low in raffinose and verbascose, two sugars that are known to cause gas.
  • Scientific testing: Some scientific analysis has focused solely on FODMAPs and how they affect the gut. Testing has shown that beans contain a small group of sugars called oligosaccharides that are not easily digested by humans and can cause gas.
  • Settled for the musical fruit: Ultimately, if you love beans and want to continue eating them, you’ll need to decide how to deal with the flatulence they cause.

Improving Digestion and Reducing Gas

There are a few things you can do to improve digestion and reduce gas production when eating beans:

  • Soak beans overnight: Soaking beans before cooking them can help break down some of the complex sugars that cause gas.
  • Cook beans thoroughly: Cooking beans thoroughly can also help break down complex sugars and make them easier to digest.
  • Eat beans with other foods: Eating beans with other foods can help slow down the digestion process and reduce gas production.
  • Take digestive enzymes: Digestive enzymes can help break down complex sugars and improve digestion.
  • Use spices: Adding spices like cumin, coriander, and fennel to your beans can help reduce gas production.


Beans are a versatile ingredient that can be used in traditional dishes from around the world, and they’re a great addition to any healthy diet.

So, don’t be afraid to give them a try! Now that you know all about beans, you can make the most of their benefits in your own cooking!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.