A bean is the seed of one of several
genera Genus (plural genera) is a taxonomic rank Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also refer to a specific classification s ...
of the
flowering plant The flowering plants, also known as Angiospermae (), or Magnoliophyta (), are the most diverse group of Embryophyte, land plants, with 64 Order(biology), orders, 416 Family (biology), families, approximately 13,000 known Genus, genera and 300,000 ...
family In human society, family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recognized birth) or affinity (by marriage or other relationship). The purpose of families is to maintain the well-being of its members an ...
Fabaceae The Fabaceae or Leguminosae,International Code of Nomencla ...
, which are used as vegetables for human or animal food. They can be cooked in many different ways, including boiling, frying, and baking, and are used in many traditional dishes throughout the world.


The word "bean" and its Germanic
cognate In linguistics, cognates, also called lexical cognates, are words that have a common etymology, etymological origin. Cognates are often inherited from a proto-language, shared parent language, but they may also involve loanword, borrowings from ...
s (e.g. German '' Bohne'') have existed in common use in West Germanic languages since before the 12th century, referring to broad beans,
chickpea The chickpea or chick pea (''Cicer arietinum'') is an annual legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. Its different types are variously known as gram" or Bengal gram, garbanzo or garbanzo bean, or Egyptian pea. Chickpea seeds are ...
s, and other pod-borne seeds. This was long before the
New World The "New World" is a Eurocentrism, eurocultural term applied to the majority of Earth's Western Hemisphere, specifically the Americas."America." ''The Oxford Companion to the English Language'' (). McArthur, Tom, ed., 1992. New York: Oxford Univ ...
genus '' Phaseolus'' was known in Europe. After Columbian-era contact between Europe and the Americas, use of the word was extended to pod-borne seeds of ''Phaseolus'', such as the common bean and the runner bean, and the related genus '' Vigna''. The term has long been applied generally to many other seeds of similar form, such as Old World
soybean The soybean or soya bean (''Glycine max'') is a species of legume A legume () is a plant Plants are mainly multicellular organisms, predominantly photosynthetic Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to En ...
s, peas, other vetches, and lupins, and even to those with slighter resemblances, such as coffee beans, vanilla, vanilla beans, Ricinus, castor beans, and cocoa beans. Thus the term "bean" in general usage can refer to a host of different species. Seeds called "beans" are often included among the crops called "pulses" (legumes), although the words are not always interchangeable (usage varies by plant variety and by region). Both terms, ''beans'' and ''pulses'', are usually reserved for grain crops and thus exclude those legumes that have tiny seeds and are used exclusively for non-grain purposes (forage, hay, and silage), such as clover and alfalfa. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization defines "BEANS, DRY" (item code 176) as applicable only to species of ''Phaseolus''. This is one of various examples of how narrower word senses enforced in trade regulations or botany often coexist in natural language with broader word sense, senses in vegetable#Terminology, culinary use and general use; other common examples are nut (fruit), the narrow sense of the word ''nut'' and the nut (food), broader sense of the word ''nut'', and the fact that tomato#Fruit_versus_vegetable, tomatoes are fruit, botanically speaking, but are often treated as vegetables in culinary and general usage. Relatedly, another detail of usage is that several species of plants that are sometimes called beans, including ''Vigna angularis'' (azuki bean), ''mungo'' (black gram), ''radiata'' (green gram), and ''aconitifolia'' (moth bean), were once taxonomy (biology), classified as ''Phaseolus'' but later reclassified—but the taxonomic revision does not entirely stop the use of well-established senses in general usage.


Unlike the closely related pea, beans are a summer crop that needs warm temperatures to grow. Legumes are capable of nitrogen fixation and hence need less fertiliser than most plants. Maturity is typically 55–60 days from planting to harvest. As the bean pods mature, they turn yellow and dry up, and the beans inside change from green to their Phaseolus vulgaris, mature colour. As a vine, bean plants need external support, which may take the form of special "bean cages" or poles. Native Americans customarily grew them along with corn and squash (the so-called Three Sisters (agriculture), Three Sisters), with the tall plant stem, cornstalks acting as support for the beans. In more recent times, the so-called "bush bean" has been developed which does not require support and has all its pods develop simultaneously (as opposed to pole beans which develop gradually). This makes the bush bean more practical for commercial production.


Beans are one of the longest-cultivated plants. Broad beans, also called fava beans, in their wild state the size of a small fingernail, were gathered in Afghanistan and the Himalayan foothills. In a form improved from naturally occurring types, they were grown in Thailand from the early seventh millennium BCE, predating ceramics. They were deposited with the dead in ancient Egypt. Not until the second millennium BCE did cultivated, large-seeded broad beans appear in the Aegean, Iberia and transalpine Europe. In the ''Iliad'' (8th century BCE) there is a passing mention of beans and
chickpea The chickpea or chick pea (''Cicer arietinum'') is an annual legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. Its different types are variously known as gram" or Bengal gram, garbanzo or garbanzo bean, or Egyptian pea. Chickpea seeds are ...
s cast on the threshing floor. Beans were an important source of Protein in nutrition, protein throughout Old and New World history, and still are today. The oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, and dated to around the second millennium BCE. However, genetic analyses of the common bean ''Phaseolus'' show that it originated in Mesoamerica, and subsequently spread southward, along with maize and squash, traditional companion crops. Most of the kinds commonly eaten fresh or dried, those of the genus ''Phaseolus'', come originally from the Americas, being first seen by a European when Christopher Columbus, while exploring what may have been the Bahamas, found them growing in fields. Five kinds of '' Phaseolus'' beans were domesticated by pre-Columbian peoples: common beans (''Phaseolus vulgaris, P. vulgaris'') grown from Chile to the northern part of what is now the United States, and lima and sieva beans (''Phaseolus lunatus, P. lunatus''), as well as the less widely distributed teparies (''Phaseolus acutifolius, P. acutifolius''), scarlet runner beans (''Phaseolus coccineus, P. coccineus'') and polyanthus beans (''Phaseolus polyanthus, P. polyanthus'') One especially famous use of beans by pre-Columbian people as far north as the Atlantic seaboard is the "Three Sisters (agriculture), Three Sisters" method of companion plant cultivation: :In the New World, many tribes would grow beans together with maize (corn), and Squash (plant), squash. The corn would not be planted in rows as is done by European agriculture, but in a checkerboard/hex fashion across a field, in separate patches of one to six stalks each. :Beans would be planted around the base of the developing stalks, and would vine their way up as the stalks grew. All American beans at that time were vine plants, "bush beans" having been bred only more recently. The cornstalks would work as a Trellis (agriculture), trellis for the beans, and the beans would provide much-needed nitrogen for the corn. :Squash would be planted in the spaces between the patches of corn in the field. They would be provided slight shelter from the sun by the corn, would shade the soil and reduce evaporation, and would deter many animals from attacking the corn and beans because their coarse, hairy vines and broad, stiff leaves are difficult or uncomfortable for animals such as deer and raccoons to walk through, crows to land on, etc. Dry beans come from both Old World varieties of broad beans (fava beans) and New World varieties (kidney, black, cranberry, pinto, navy/haricot). Beans are a heliotropic plant, meaning that the leaves tilt throughout the day to face the sun. At night, they go into a folded "sleep" position.


Currently, the world genebanks hold about 40,000 bean varieties, although only a fraction are mass-produced for regular consumption. Some bean types include: * ''Vicia'' ** ''Vicia faba'' (broad bean or fava bean) * '' Phaseolus'' ** ''Phaseolus acutifolius'' (tepary bean) ** ''Phaseolus coccineus'' (runner bean) ** ''Phaseolus lunatus'' (lima bean) ** ''Phaseolus vulgaris'' (common bean; includes the pinto bean, kidney bean, black turtle bean, black bean, Appaloosa bean as well as green beans, and many others) ** ''Phaseolus polyanthus'' (a.k.a. ''P. dumosus'', recognized as a separate species in 1995) * '' Vigna'' ** ''Vigna aconitifolia'' (moth bean) ** ''Vigna angularis'' (adzuki bean) ** ''Vigna mungo'' (urad bean) ** ''Vigna radiata'' (mung bean) ** ''Vigna subterranea'' (Bambara bean or ground-bean) ** ''Vigna umbellata'' (ricebean) ** ''Vigna unguiculata'' (cowpea; also includes the black-eyed pea, yardlong bean and others) * ''Cicer'' ** ''Cicer arietinum'' (
chickpea The chickpea or chick pea (''Cicer arietinum'') is an annual legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. Its different types are variously known as gram" or Bengal gram, garbanzo or garbanzo bean, or Egyptian pea. Chickpea seeds are ...
or garbanzo bean) * ''Pisum'' ** ''Pisum sativum'' ( pea) * ''Lathyrus'' ** ''Lathyrus sativus'' (Indian pea) ** ''Lathyrus tuberosus'' (tuberous pea) * ''Lens (plant), Lens'' ** ''Lens culinaris'' (lentil) * ''Lablab'' ** ''Lablab purpureus'' (hyacinth bean) * ''Glycine (plant), Glycine'' ** ''Glycine max'' (soybean) * ''Psophocarpus'' ** ''Psophocarpus tetragonolobus'' (winged bean) * ''Cajanus'' ** ''Cajanus cajan'' (pigeon pea) * ''Mucuna'' ** ''Mucuna pruriens'' (velvet bean) * ''Cyamopsis'' ** ''Cyamopsis tetragonoloba'' or (guar) * ''Canavalia'' ** ''Canavalia ensiformis'' (jack bean) ** ''Canavalia gladiata'' (sword bean) * ''Macrotyloma'' ** ''Macrotyloma uniflorum'' (horse gram) * ''Lupinus'' (lupin) ** ''Lupinus mutabilis'' (tarwi) ** ''Lupinus albus'' (lupini bean) * ''Arachis'' ** ''Arachis hypogaea'' (peanut)



Beans are high in protein (nutrient), protein, Oligosaccharide, complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron. Beans also have significant amounts of fiber and soluble fiber, with one cup of cooked beans providing between nine and 13 grams of fiber.Mixed Bean Salad
(information and recipe) fro
The Mayo Clinic Healthy Recipes
. Accessed February 2010.
Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol. The Canadian government recommends that adults have up to two (female), and three (male) servings. 3/4 cup of cooked beans provide one serving.


Many types of bean contain significant amounts of antinutrients that inhibit some enzyme processes in the body. Phytic acid and phytates, present in grains, nuts, seeds and beans, interfere with bone growth and interrupt vitamin D metabolism. Pioneering work on the effect of phytic acid was done by Edward Mellanby from 1939.


Many edible beans, including broad beans, navy beans, kidney beans and soybeans, contain oligosaccharides (particularly raffinose and stachyose), a type of sugar molecule also found in cabbage. An anti-oligosaccharide enzyme is necessary to properly digest these sugar molecules. As a normal human digestive tract does not contain any anti-oligosaccharide enzymes, consumed oligosaccharides are typically digested by bacteria in the large intestine. This digestion process produces gases, such as methane as a byproduct, which are then released as flatulence.

Health concerns


Some kinds of raw beans contain a harmful, tasteless toxin: the lectin phytohaemagglutinin, which must be removed by cooking. Red kidney beans are particularly toxic, but other types also pose risks of food poisoning. A recommended method is to boil the beans for at least ten minutes; undercooked beans may be more toxic than raw beans. Cooking beans, without bringing them to a boil, in a slow cooker at a temperature well below boiling may not destroy toxins. A case of poisoning by Lima bean, butter beans used to make falafel was reported; the beans were used instead of traditional broad beans or
chickpea The chickpea or chick pea (''Cicer arietinum'') is an annual legume of the family Fabaceae, subfamily Faboideae. Its different types are variously known as gram" or Bengal gram, garbanzo or garbanzo bean, or Egyptian pea. Chickpea seeds are ...
s, soaked and ground without boiling, made into patties, and Shallow frying, shallow fried. Bean poisoning is not well known in the medical community, and many cases may be misdiagnosed or never reported; figures appear not to be available. In the case of the UK National Poisons Information Service, available only to health professionals, the dangers of beans other than red beans were not flagged . Fermentation (food), Fermentation is used in some parts of Africa to improve the nutritional value of beans by removing toxins. Inexpensive fermentation improves the nutritional impact of flour from dry beans and improves digestibility, according to research co-authored by Emire Shimelis, from the Food Engineering Program at Addis Ababa University. Beans are a major source of dietary protein (nutrient), protein in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Bacterial infection from bean sprouts

It is common to make beansprouts by letting some types of bean, often mung beans, germinate in moist and warm conditions; beansprouts may be used as ingredients in cooked dishes, or eaten raw or lightly cooked. There have been many Beansprout#health concerns, outbreaks of disease from bacterial contamination, often by ''salmonella'', ''listeria'', and ''Escherichia coli'', of beansprouts not thoroughly cooked, some causing significant mortality.


The production data for legumes are published by Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO in three categories: #Pulses dry: all mature and dry seeds of leguminous plants except soybeans and groundnuts. #Oil crops: soybeans and groundnuts. #Fresh vegetable: immature green fresh fruits of leguminous plants. The following is a summary of FAO data. Main crops of "Pulses, Total (dry)" are "Beans, dry [176]" 26.83 million tons, "Peas, dry [187]" 14.36 million tons, "Chick peas [191]" 12.09 million tons, "Cow peas [195]" 6.99 million tons, "Lentils [201]" 6.32 million tons, "Pigeon peas [197]" 4.49 million tons, "Broad beans, horse beans [181]" 4.46 million tons. In general, the consumption of pulses per capita has been decreasing since 1961. Exceptions are lentils and cowpeas. The world leader in production of Dry Beans ( Phaseolus spp). is Myanmar (Burma), followed by India and Brazil. In Africa, the most important producer is Tanzania.FA
Pulses and Derived Products
/ref> No symbol = official figure, P = official figure, F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial/Semi-official/mirror data, C = Calculated figure A = Aggregate (may include official, semi-official or estimates) ''Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)''

See also

* Baked beans * List of bean soups ** Fassoulada – a bean soup * List of edible seeds * List of legume dishes




External links

Everett H. Bickley Collection, 1919–1980
Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Fermentation improves nutritional value of beans

{{Authority control Edible legumes Pod vegetables Staple foods Vegan cuisine Vegetarian cuisine Crops Plant common names