By Dawn M. Swidorski
When we think about green beans, we are usually thinking of the “snap bean”. Though, as is the case with many vegetables, that is just scratching surface. Known scientifically as Phaseolus vulgaris the family includes snap beans, fava beans, lima beans and even soy beans. Just like peas, beans are also a legume and snap beans are one of the few varieties that are eaten fresh.
Green beans have their heritage in Central and South America and there is archeological evidence that shows they were cultivated in Peru 5,000 years ago. They were introduced into Europe in the 16th century by Spanish explorers. They were later spread throughout the world by Spanish and Portuguese traders.
Green beans are found in two major groups, bush beans and pole beans. Bush beans are short plants, growing to approximately two feet in height, without requiring supports. Pole beans require supports, and grow to several feet in height.
Though often referred to as string beans, “the string that once was their trademark” has largely been bred out of modern varieties. Although available at your local grocery store throughout the year, they are in season from summer through early fall when they are at their best and the least expensive.
Green beans are picked while still immature and the inner bean is just beginning to form. Green beans vary in size but average about four inches in length, deep emerald green in color, come to a slight point at either end, and contain tiny seeds within their thin pods.
Today, the largest commercial producers of fresh green beans include the United States, China, Japan, Spain, Italy and France. Every culture has their own favorite ways to cook green beans.
- Asian cultures add spices like garlic, ginger, scallions, chili paste and soy sauce to green beans.
- In Greece green beans are simmered with onions, tomatoes, garlic and oregano until soft.
- Italian recipes for green beans are very similar to Greek recipes and call for stewed tomatoes, onion, garlic, sweet basil and Parmesan cheese.
- The French love tiny green beans called “haricot vert” and cook them using white wine, mushrooms, pearl onions and garlic.
Green beans are delicious all on their own – lightly steamed with a splash of lemon juice. But they can also be used in stir fries, soups, eaten raw or cooked in salads and of course casseroles – but please don’t drown them in a can of mushroom soup!