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Beans and Legumes

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Beans and Legumes: We’re Ready to Spill the Beans on this Magical Protein

Beans and legumes are nutritional powerhouses and cost-effective sources of protein that are a staple in meals around the globe.

In this section, we’ll talk you through the assortment of beans and legumes that have graced dinner tables for thousands of years (literally – the oldest-known domesticated beans in the Americas were found in Peru and dated back to around the second millennium BCE). From red lentils to black beans, Mama Fang’s is here to help you find plant-based protein you’ll love.

Bean and Legume Types

First, let’s review the difference between beans and legumes before diving into more specifics. Beans are the seeds collected from plants that we then use for food. Legumes are any plants whose fruit comes in a pod and are typically broken down into these categories: beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts. So, for the sake of understanding these categorizations, all beans are considered legumes, but not all legumes are considered beans.

  • Lentils: These protein- and fiber-rich seeds come in a variety of colors. You can purchase and cook lentils whole or shelled (also called split lentils). Lentil dishes are most widespread throughout South Asia, the Mediterranean, West Asia, and Latin America. They are commonly used in soups and stews or cooked with rice. For example, in India you will often find red lentils, or masoor dal, spiced, stewed, and served with rice.
  • Chickpeas: Also called garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a key ingredient in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian cooking. Chickpeas are eaten hot, cold, and ground (as in hummus and falafel), and are a versatile ingredient for salads, curries, snacks, and more. They are also ground into flour as a gluten-free alternative to traditional wheat flour (to learn more, click here).
  • Pigeon Peas: A close relative of chickpeas, pigeon peas are beans that are used in cooking across many regions but also used as an important cover crop, slowing erosion and improving soil health. Depending on where you are, these beans are also known as Toor Dal, Caja Pea, Congo Pea, Gandule, and Goongoo pea. Pigeon peas are a popular ingredient throughout the Caribbean – one example is in Jamaica where pigeon peas are used in a rice and peas dish that is especially popular during the Christmas season. 
  • Mung Beans: Mainly cultivated in East, Southeast, and South Asia, these beans can be found in sweet and savory dishes. In India (where they are commonly known as moong dal), you may find mung beans served whole with congee or mashed and made into fritters called mangode. You may find them in soup or in desserts, like zongzi which is a staple during the Dragon Boat Festival. However you eat them, mung beans are sure to deliver a lot of nutrients and flavor.
  • Adzuki Beans: Also called red beans or red mung beans, these beans are a common ingredient in East Asian desserts. They are typically boiled with sugar to create red bean paste, which can be found in mooncakes, daifuku, dorayaki, and more.
  • Soybeans: Native to East Asia, soybeans are used in the production of tofu, soybean oil, soy sauce, tempeh, soy milk, and more. The naturally mineral-rich beans are also used whole in Asian dishes and soups. For example, you may be familiar with the Japanese dish edamame, which uses immature soybeans in its pods. Soybeans are also a critical source of protein used in feed for farm animals.
  • Peas: There are numerous varieties of peas, which are seeds found in an edible pod, and they are grown in many parts of the world since they are a cool-season crop. You often will find peas boiled or steamed, but you can also enjoy them raw, like sugar snap peas. When shelled, you may also find them in stir-fries, pot pies, and soups.
  • Additional Types: Since it is estimated that there are over 400 different varieties of beans, there are many kinds that we did not cover here. A couple of our favorites are black-eyed  peas- often eaten on New Years’ Day to bring prosperity – and fava beans – a great side dish on their own or a good meat substitute – but there are so many more to explore. Come chat with us, and we’ll help you find the perfect addition to your pantry!

Visit us soon – we’re enthusiastic about sharing the diverse world of beans and legumes with you, and we look forward to helping you expand your palate to try dishes from around the globe that showcase this protein-rich vegetable.

Already have a favorite recipe featuring beans or legumes? We’d love to hear it!

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