Where do your beans come from?

February 2, 2019

From its origins as a wild vine in Central and South America to the thousands of varieties grown around the world today, beans have evolved to be one of the world’s most important and versatile crops.

Where do your beans come from? - dry bean pods in a pile. One is cracked open revealing deep red bean seeds.

The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) originated as a wild vine in Central and South America. Thanks to generations of Indigenous food growers cultivating beans over many millennia, there are thousands of varieties within the P. vulgaris species grown around the world today.

This incredible diversity of common beans encompasses many unique varieties—that seem anything but common—and a lot of the everyday beans you’re sure to be familiar with including black beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans and pinto beans.

This diversity didn’t happen by accident; farmers selected the plants they liked the best and saved seeds from them, nudging beans toward heat tolerance, redness, frost resistance and more. They passed these seeds and knowledge down to their children and the cycle continued. So every bean you see today is the work of thousands of people.

Learn how to plant, grow and save bean seeds. We’ll be with you every step of the way, all season long!

Beans are members of the Fabaceae family, commonly known as the legume plant family. One of the perks of this plant family is they have the amazing ability to naturally increase nitrogen content in the soil, making the nitrogen accessible to other plants around them. In this way, beans don’t just grow nutritious, delicious food (scroll down for some delightful recipes), they help to enrich the soil in which they grow.

Bean recipes

Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds is one of Canada’s best known organic seed farmers. He has long advocated for Canadians to grow and eat more pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas, favas and lentils). His book, The Power of Pulses, provides tips for gardeners wishing to grow and save their own pulses as well as a collection of delicious and creative recipes. The following two recipes, one for fresh beans and one for dried, were provided with kind permission by Dan. Enjoy!

Maple-baked northern beans

Serves six

Whether you enjoy them on their own, with creamy polenta or piled on toast beneath a runny egg, baked beans are nourishing and comforting. For a quick and hearty breakfast, prepare a day ahead and reheat in the oven.

1 medium yellow onion
4 whole cloves
2 ½ cups (600 mL) dry navy beans, soaked in water overnight
6 tbsp (90mL) maple syrup
¼ cup (60mL) unsulphured molasses
2 tsp (10 mL) dry mustard powder
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp (30 mL) tomato paste
2 tsp (10 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp baking soda
4 cups (1L) boiling water
1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste.

Preheat oven to 250F (121C).

Peel the onion, trim its ends and stud it with the cloves.

To cook in the oven, place onion in a four-quart (16 cup/3.8 L) Dutch oven along with all other ingredients except for vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover pot and place in the oven. Lifting the lid and stirring occasionally, cook the beans for six to seven hours, until they are tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze.

To cook in a slow cooker, boil beans in a medium pot for 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and add to slow cooker along with all other ingredients except for vinegar, salt and pepper. Cook on low for six hours, or until they are tender and the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze.

Add vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove onion and serve.

Quick pickled bean

Makes 1 lb (455 g) of pickled beans

Whether you toss one in a Caesar or pile a few on a cheese board, there’s nothing like the vinegary snap of a pickled bean.

1 lb (455 g) green beans, stems removed
1 ½ cups (350 mL) water
1 ¼ cups (300 mL) white wine vinegar
4 tbs (60 mL) sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) pickling salt
2 tsp (10 mL) mustard seeds
¼ tsp (1 mL) red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 sprigs dill

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add green beans to boiling water and cook until al dente, about two minutes.

Drain and immediately plunge into ice water. Once completely cool, drain.

In a small saucepan, bring water, vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes and garlic to a boil. Remove from heat and stir to ensure sugar has dissolved. Cool completely.

Stand blanched beans in mason jars and add dill sprigs. Fill jars with cooled pickling liquid and allow to infuse for a minimum of six hours before eating: the flavour will become stronger over time. Will keep in the fridge for two weeks.

No-fuss bean vinaigrette

2 lbs favourite snap bean
2 tbsp oil of your choice
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt, pepper, herbs to taste

For additional flavour add chopped roasted nuts, seeds, Parmesan or feta cheese.

Ask your farmer how best to prepare the beans, as varieties may have different cooking times. Trim the stems of beans. Boil for approx. four minutes, drain and cool them before tossing with the vinaigrette and any additional ingredients.