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Release date: 12/28/2004.
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"Abu el-Heidja has deflowered in one night
Once eighty virgins, and he did not eat or drink between,
Because he surfeited himself with chickpeas,
And had drunk camel's milk with honey mixed."
--Sheik Nefzawi, in The Perfumed Garden

Click HERE to get the other side of the social spectrum, in Samim Kocagöz' "Dry Beans."

"Red beans and ricely yours,"
--Louis Armstrong (as he signed all his letters)

"I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
--William Butler Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

"Hunger maketh hard beans sweet."
--John Heywood, 16th century English epigrammatist, dramatist, and poet who served the early Tudor family as a singer and musician

"A bean in liberty is better than a comfit in prison"
--English proverb

"There was an old person of Dean, who dined on one pea and one bean; For he said,'More than that Would make me too fat,'That cautious old person of Dean."
--Edward Lear, in 100 Nonsense Pictures and Rhymes

"But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You must not give him beans."
--G. K. Chesterton

Nemo sine vitiis nascitur, or "Every bean has its black"
--Latin proverb meaning "everyone has his faults"

S'il me donne des pois, je lui donnerai des fèves, or "If he gives me beans, I will give him some"
--French proverb meaning "I'll give him tit for tat"

"Abstain from beans."
--Pythagoras, 6th century BC Greek philosopher (believing in the transmigration of souls), mathematician (yes, the theorem--but more importantly believing that all relationships in the universe could be expressed numerically), and musical theorist.

"Abstain from beans. There be sundry interpretations of this symbol. But Plutarch and Cicero think beans to be forbidden of Pythagoras, because they be windy and do engender impure humours and for that cause provoke bodily lust."
--Richard Taverner

"There will be no beans in the Almost Perfect State."
--Don Marquis

"Inhabitants of underdeveloped nations and victims of natural disasters are the only people who have ever been happy to see soybeans."
--Fran Liebowitz

"If pale beans bubble for you in a red earthenware pot, you can often decline the dinners of sumptuous hosts."
--Martial's Epigrams

HOMAGE TO BEANS, by the late Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), written 3 years before his death in 1966
"It was many years ago that a very dignified and slightly belligerent senator took himself to the Senate Dining Room to order bean soup, only to discover that there was no bean soup on the menu. This dereliction on the part of the Senate Dining Room cooks called for an immediate declaration of war. So the senator promptly introduced a resolution to the effect that henceforth not a deay should pass, when the Senate was in session and the restaurant open, that there would not be bean soup on the menu. It has, therefore, become an inviolate practice and a glorious tradition that the humble little bean should always be honored.

"There is much to be said for the succulent little bean--any kind of bean, be it kidney, navy, green, wax, Kentucky, chili, baked, pinto, Mexican, or any other kind. Not only is it high in nourishment, but is particularly rich in that nutritious value referred to as protein--the stuff that imparts energy and drive to the bean eater and particularly the senators who need this sustaining force when they prepare for a long speech on the Senate floor.

"I venture the belief that the marathon speakers of the Senate going back as far as the day of the celebrated "Kingfish," Senator Huey Pierce Long of Louisiana, and coming down to the modern marathoners in the forensic art such as Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, both of whom have spoken well in excell of twenty hours and felt no ill effects, would agree the little bean had much to do with this sustained torrent of oratory.

"In my enumeration of the bean varieties, I forgot to include one of the most celebrated of all beans, namely, the soybean. Not only has this little Oriental produce sustained a civilization in China for perhaps thousands of years, but it has been broken down into so many components that, like Atlas, it fairly carries the weight of the world on its tiny shoulders. The soybean today produces soya cake for cattle feed, which is highly prized by dairymen and beef producers. Its oils are used for preparing table spreads and cooking oils. It is low in unsaturated fats and is prized by dieticians and that vast host who devote so much of a lifetime to keeping a svelte figure. Its oils are further broken down for use in house paints and the soya cake can now be compressed so hard tht it makes door handles and gadgetry without number.

"Some day some historical bonepicker seeking a subject for a world-shaking thesis that will live as long as Shakespeare will hit upon the lowly bean. What a welter of knowledge he will develop in his research, and I am sure he will come to the conclusion that without the bean, the earth would have long slipped into orbit and disappeared among a galaxy inhabited by bean eaters. Hail to the bean!"


Beans are legumes--that is, the seed of a plant that has pods. And because all legumes absorb nitrogen from the air, they are rich sources of protein--more than in any other plant food, in fact.

Beans are also one of the oldest things around--and one of the first wild plants to be domesticated, long before any wild animals truckled to mankind's hand.

They are high in soluble fiber, which helps control blood cholesterol; they're low in calories and fat; and they're good for diabetics, because their balance of complex carbohydrates and proteins provides a steady source of glucose. Also--great source of starch, B-complex vitamins, iron, potassium, and zinc.

To fart...

So why hasn't man figured out a way to diminish their fart potential? An interesting question. First you have to understand the science of the phenomenon. Beans have complex sugars in them--oligosaccharides--that can't be digested by human digestive enzymes. So these sugars sail untouched through the upper intestine, only to be met in the lower intestine by the local population: lean and hungry bacteria with a sweet tooth. In a sense, it's THEM with the gas. They eat; they give off gas...then it's our problem. Concentrations of these sugars in dried legumes cause the most problems--navy beans and limas get the prize as the worst and smelliest culprits.

Interestingly, the LESS you eat of beans in general, the more you fart. In high bean diets--like Mexican cuisines--it's just not that much of a problem. It's only when you're the occasional indulgent that your bacteria can't control themselves. Otherwise, flatulence is also a function of swallowing--like if you gulp down a lot of air with your food--and it further depends on the personality of your own individual gastrointestinal tract.

Or not to fart

If you want to, ahem, get a grip on the problem? There's a couple things you can do. First, don't undercook--you want the beans as digestible as possible. Second, when you're soaking, keep changing the water. And when you're ready to cook, rinse the beans thoroughly and change the water again. And when you're cooking, keep changing the water. Get it? The more complex sugars you dump out with the water, the less the bacteria have to eat. In the case of canned beans, throw out the bean liquid and wash the beans under water with your hands.

Here's what NOT to do: Don't add baking soda. Not only does it fail to reduce the gas-producing sugars, it also toughens the beans and destroys nutrients.

The storied bean

From Grimm's Fairy Tale about "The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean," the critical role of beans in European society is clear:
FoodTale: Once there was a poor old woman who lived in a village. She had collected a bundle of beans and was going to cook them. So she prepared a fire on her hearth, and to make it burn up quickly she lighted it with a handful of straw. When she threw the beans into the pot, one escaped her unnoticed and slipped onto the floor, where it lay by a straw. Soon afterwards a glowing coal jumped out of the fire and joined the others. Then the straw began and said, "Little friends, how did you come here?" The coal answered, ''I have happily escaped the fire, and if I had not done so by force of will, my death would certainly have been a most cruel one. I should have been burnt to a cinder." The bean said, ''I also have escaped so far with a whole skin. But if the old woman had put me into the pot, I should have been pitilessly boiled down to broth like my comrades." "Would a better fate have befallen me, then?" asked the straw. "The old woman packed all my brothers into the fire and smoke. Sixty of them were all done for at once. Fortunately I slipped through her fingers." "What are we to do now, though?" asked the coal. "My opinion is," said the bean, "that, as we have escaped death, we must all keep together like good comrades. And so that we may run no furtherrisks, we had better quit this country." This proposal pleased both the others, and they set out together. Before long they came to a little stream where there was neither path nor bridge, and they did not know how to get over. The straw at last had an idea and said, "I will throw myself over and then you can walk across upon me like a bridge." So the straw stretched himself across from one side to the other, and the coal, which was of a fiery nature, tripped gaily over the newly built bridge." But when it got to the middle and heard the water rushing below, it was frightened and remained speechless, not daring to go any further. The straw, beginning to burn, broke in two and fell into the stream. The coal, falling with it, fizzled out in the water. The bean, who had cautiously remained on the bank, could not help laughing over the whole business, and having begun could not stop, but laughed till she split her sides. Now all would have been up with her had not, fortunately, a wandering tailor been taking a rest by the stream. As he had a sympathetic heart, he brought out a needle and thread and stitched her up again, but as he used black thread all beans have a black seam to this day.

Using the old bean

Over 14,000 species of the Fabaceae family (formerly called leguminusae) exist--but only some 20 are actually grown in any quantity as a human food.

Here are of the main ones:

  1. The Great Common Bean (phaseolus vulgaris) probably began cultivation in Southwest Mexico, around 5000 BC. It was finally exported to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 15th century--and ultimately came back to the New World as an unrecognized stranger, taking new forms altogether. Phaseolus vulgaris is called many things in many cultures:


    • Boston Baked Beans--or Great Northern Beans: In 1620, Pilgrims copied Indian squaws who were cooking these beans with deer fat and onions in clay pots. They added pork fat and brown sugar--and immortalized the ineluctable connection of Boston with Beans:
      "And this is good old Boston,
      The home of the bean and the cod,
      Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,
      And the Cabots talk only to God.
    • Cannelli in Italy. These big, white beans are probably native to Argentina. They have a nutty flavor and are often used in Pasta e fagioli
    • Haricot in France, because they're the mature, dried white pod of the French haricot vert, or green bean
    • Small whites
    • Navy beans
    • Soissons
    • White kidney beans

    • Kidney beans, also used in Pasta e fagioli
    • Habichuelas
    • Chili beans
    • Mexican beans
    • New Orleans red beans
    • Pink beans (when they're light colored)
    • Pinto beans (when they're streaked with brownish pink). "Pinto" is the Spanish word for "painted"--same as the horse and ponies that carry similar markings.
    • Cranberry beans--the photo negative of pintos, they're pink with beige streaks and also turn all pink when they're cooked. Italians call them borlotti or saluggia beans.

    • Black beans, or frijoles negro: They are big, kidney shaped, and shiny, with a white seam. They're made into traditional soups in Cuba, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, and Spain--and have a slightly mushroomy flavor.

    • Swedish beans because of their popularity in Scandanavian countries. They are small, oval, and brown.

    • Flageolets: immature kidney beans, picked when young, that are adored by the French. They're tender, a pastel green, with a light, fresh taste.

  2. Adzuki (phaseolus angularis), native to China and Japan for millennia, are bush beans with pizazz--small, thick skinned, reddish-brown, with a thin white seam. They have a nice nutty taste.

  3. Black-eyed peas (vigna unguiculata) probably began life in China, traveled the Silk Route in the hands of Arab traders, then found their way to Africa--hence to the Americas on slave ships. Ergo the American plantation South luck charm of "Hoppin John" on the new year. These medium sized creamy beans have a purply seam, a smooth texture, a thin skin, and a subtle flavor. Like lentils, they don't have to be soaked.

  4. Channa Dal (pisum stivum), most popular in Indian and Southeast Asia, are your basic yellow split pea--small, round, and quickly cooked--but with a much nuttier flavor than their American counterparts.

  5. Chickpeas (cicer arientinum) got their name from the Romans, meaning "ram-like." This description refers to the seed's resemblance to a ram's head. If you look, you will even see the curling horns. Also widely known as garbanzo beans. Many believe that chickpeas increase energy AND the sexual desires of both men and women.
    Sheik Omar Abu Mohammed, 16th century Magrebi arab, wrote in The Perfumed Garden that chickpeas can cure impotence, and they should certainly be eaten to serve as a sexual stimulant.

  6. Fava beans (vicia faba) originated in ancient Egypt and spread throughout the Mediterranean, where they were cultivated as both human and animal food. Pythagoras of ancient Greece forbade his followers to eat them because, according to legend, they were said to contain the souls of the dead. More likely, Pythagoras discerned the connection between eating undercooked fava beans and the anemic blood disorder now called favism. Traces of the fava's cultivation have been found in Bronze Age sites in Switzerland and in Iron Age sites in England. Until Spanish explorers brought phaseolus vulgaris to Europe in the 15th century, favas were the only bean in town. And then, of course, it was Hannibal Lecter, in "Silence of the Lambs," who claimed to have eaten the liver of a census taker "with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." These fat broad beans can now be found fresh in ethnic groceries, distinctive in their long, tough pods.

  7. Lentils (lens esculenta).

  8. Lima beans (phaseolus lunatus). Sufferin' succotash, these flattened hearts come in big sizes (from Central and South America) and small sizes (Mexico). Both were taken to Europe by the Spanish explorers, where they thrived. The bean traveled to Africa with the slave trade, and has, since, become the most important bean on that continent.

  9. Mung beans (vigna radiata) are little round yellow beans sealed in a dark green seed coat. Native to India, they spread to China early on. They were cultivated by 1500 BC, and were often sprouted, being much more digestible that way.

  10. Peas (Pisum sativum).

  11. Pigeon Peas (vigna sinensis) were cultivated by the Egyptians some 4000 years ago--and are reputed to be slightly narcotic. They were brought from Africa (where they're still called Congo peas) by slaves to the New World and are still used in many Caribbean dishes (where they're known as Googoo beans, especially in Jamaica).

  12. Soybeans (glycine max) are round and come in many colors. Probably they started in Manchuria around 3000 BC--and didn't show up in Europe until the 17th century. Americans didn't give the soybean a whirl until the 19th century, and they still prefer to feed it to livestock or eat it in its many disguised forms. As eating beans, they're as hard as rocks and need more soaking than any other bean. But versatility is their middle name. Don't even think about it in soap, pain, cement, fuel, and plastics. In food it turns into salad oil--and the sprouts to put it on. It acts as an emulsifier to bond chocolate and other foods. It acts as an extender. It's tofu; it's miso; it's flour; it's beancake (tempeh); it's milk that's overloaded with iron, calcium and phosphorous. It's all the fake seafood and chicken and cheese and hot dogs you see on grocery shelves. Fermented with salt and roasted wheat in wooden casks, it's glorious, glorious soy sauce. Some call it "the meat of the soil"; others, "the cow of China"; the ancients, "the miracle bean." Whatever. A day doesn't go by that we don't use or ingest it in the most unexpected ways.

    Boston baked, green; red. Navy, lima;
    Pinto, black, butter; kidney, string--I'm a
    Person who leans
    Toward all kinds of beans.
    I hope that plenny
    Of farmers sow them.
    You're not any-
    Where till you know them.

    No accident beans
    In common speech means. . .
    Well, are you anything other than prim?
    Have you keenness, spirit, vim?
    Can you make all kinds of scenes?
    Then we say you're full of beans.

    "A fabis abstinete," Pythagoras said,
    Meaning "Eat no beans." Where was his head?

    Yankee, pole, mung; Kentucky Wonder;
    Wax, soy, speckled; they all come under
    The heading of beans. Flavor apart,
    They are good for your heart.

    --Roy Blount, Jr., in One Fell Soup