Beans are legumes that include kidney, soy, pinto, garbanzo, navy, and many other types of beans, and they’ve been around for quite a while. Most of today’s beans are man-made, although the origins of most of the beans are hard to pinpoint.
This article will explore the origin of beans and some tips for the best beans to grow at home.
Beans start out as flowering plants and are part of the genera Fabaceae; they can be used for both animal and human food. Beans can be fried, boiled, and baked, so they are very versatile.
They are also used in many traditional dishes in countries all over the world. Because they have been cultivated for so long, it is difficult to tell which ones are definite hybrids and which ones aren’t, but many experts believe that the majority of the beans eaten today are indeed man-made.
We know that people buried their dead in ancient Egypt with beans, but it is thought that certain beans—such as fava (broad) beans—weren’t cultivated until the early 7th millennium BCE.
These beans were found in Iberia and the Aegean region. As far as proof of beans’ existence, the oldest domesticated beans in the Americas were found in an archaeological site in Peru and were dated to around the 2nd millennium BCE.
In Homer’s epic, The Iliad, beans and chickpeas were mentioned as being cast on the threshing floor. We know that beans have been around for a very long time, but exactly how long, no one knows.
Most of the beans we eat today are part of a genus that originated in the Americas. The name of the genus is Phaseolus, and the first European to come across the beans was Christopher Columbus, who saw them growing in fields while exploring what we think is now the area called the Bahamas.
The pre-Columbian peoples domesticated five types of beans: common beans (P. vulgaris); lima and sieva beans (P. lunatus); teparies (P. acutifolius); scarlet runner beans (P. coccineus); and polyanthus beans (P. polyanthus).
We also know that the pre-Columbian people as far north as the Atlantic seaboard used the three sisters method of cultivating beans—they cultivated them together with corn and squash.
In fact, they didn’t plant these three crops in rows together; instead, they used a “checkerboard” pattern with the three foods and planted them in patches across the field.
At that time, beans would be planted around the base of developing stalks so they could vine their way up whenever the stalks started to grow. Keep in mind that at the time, all American beans were vine plants. The “bush beans” that we think of today are a fairly new phenomenon.
We also know that different beans have come from both the Old World and the New World. Old World varieties of beans include the broad (or fava) beans, while the New World varieties include black, kidney, pinto, cranberry, and navy/haricot beans.
Most people believe that beans started being cultivated in Mexico around 7,000 years ago, and their popularity started spreading across South America and various tribes in the area. Explorers and travelers eventually spread them to areas such as Europe, Asia, and even Africa.
Today, lots of countries around the world grow dry beans, and the top producers of dry beans include the following:
- India: 6.3 million tons/year
- Myanmar: 5.4 million tons/year
- Brazil: 3 million tons/year
- The US: 1.6 million tons/year
- China: 1.3 million tons/year
Other countries in the top 10 include mainland China, Mexico, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Roughly 22.5 million metric tons of dry beans are grown every year.
In the United States alone, a minimum of 1.5 million acres of edible dry beans are planted each and every year. Keep in mind that a metric ton is roughly 0.91% the size of a standard (US) ton.
They are similar but not exactly alike. Metric tons are usually indicated by a slightly different spelling of the word: tonnes.
Again, this date is difficult to determine, but it seems the first cultivated beans appeared roughly 4,000 years ago in the Iberian, Aegean, and transalpine areas of Europe.
They were known as broad beans and had large seeds. When beans were also found in Guitarrero Cave in Peru, it was surmised that beans were commonplace and found all over this area. Beans were, indeed, one of the staple foods of many of the early peoples at that time.
Over time, numerous types of beans were developed and grown, including:
- Fava (broad)
- Black-eyed pea
- Indian pea
- Chickpea (garbanzo)
Beans have a lot of nutritional value, taste great, and are inexpensive to grow. These are just a few of the reasons why beans grew in popularity so quickly. Once people were introduced to this food and realized its many benefits, they were anxious to share this news with others.
It is both simple and inexpensive to grow beans at home. Some are easier to grow than others, and they include the following:
- Edamame. Also called soybeans, they are tolerant of most climate conditions, and pests generally don’t like them.
- Lima beans. You can often harvest these beans, also called butter beans, in around 65 days, and they do best in either a cool climate or when they’re grown outdoors.
- Kidney beans. They take 100–140 days to ripen enough to harvest, and they can be grown as a bush or pole bean.
- Pinto beans. Pinto beans love dry climates and heat, and you can harvest them in 75–100 days. They are one of the most nutritional beans you can eat.
Most of today’s beans are man-made, although the origins of most of the beans are hard to pinpoint. Beans are delicious, filled with fiber, and have tons of vitamins as well. They are also easy to grow at home if that’s what you prefer.
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.