Snapping Green Beans

Green beans are also known as string beans, snap beans (in the northeastern and western United States), ejotes (in Mexico), haricots verts (in French), French beans, French green beans, French filet beans, or fine beans (in British English) They are the unripe fruit of various cultivars of the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) that have been selected especially for the fleshiness, flavor, or sweetness of their pods. Green beans belong to the the family Fabaceae, along with other common beans such as pinto beansheirloom beansblack turtle beans, kidney beans, and navy beans, edible-pod and mature peas, soybeans, fava beans, black-eyed peas, jicama, adzuki beanslentilslima beanspeanutschickpeas, carob, and licorice. The family also includes broom, gorse, and kudzu.

Green beans and all 200 varieties of P. vulgaris originated in the tropical southern part of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and part of Costa Rica, where they were cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago.  They spread from this center of origin to North and South America.

European explorers, including Christopher Columbus, found the climbing beans typically planted alongside corn. In Columbus’s diary from November 4, 1492, he describes lands in Cuba planted with faxones and fabas “different than ours.” Later he encounterd fexoes and habas that were different than the ones he knew from Spain. Faxones and fexoes were probably cow peas and fabas and habas were fava beans. The beans Columbus found were undoubtedly common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris. When Christopher Columbus returned from his second voyage to the New World in the year 1493, he brought the common beans back with him to Europe.

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485–1528) was a Florentine explorer in the service of the King Francis I of France. He is renowned as the first European since the Norse expeditions to North America around AD 1000 to explore the Atlantic coast of North America between the Carolinas and Newfoundland, including New York Bay and Narragansett Bay in 1524. On July 8 of that year, he wrote to King Francis, reporting on his discoveries. He wrote of the people of what is now Rhode Island, “They live on the same food as the other people—beans (which they produce with more systematic cultivation than the other tribes, and when sowing they observe the influence of the moon, the rising of the Pleiades, and many other customs derived from the ancients)…”

During this time, green beans had a “string” that ran on the outer curve of the pod shell. This led to the nickname “string beans.” Native Americans prior to contact with Europeans did not eat green beans the way we do. They boiled the pods at the mature stage and pulled the beans between their teeth, discarding the pods. To them strings were not an issue.

In 1532, Pierio Valeriano received a bag of common bean seeds as compensation for work at the court of Pope Clemente VII, which the Pope had received from the Spanish Emperor Charles V. Valeriano sowed the seeds in its fields located in Belluno province of the Veneto region in Northeastern Italy. Subsequently, Valeriano described in a short poem in Latin entitled ‘De Milacis Cultura’, the cultivation technique, the plant and seed morphology, and the supposed therapeutic properties of beans. The common beans spread quickly in the Veneto region, particularly in Belluno province.

The first drawings of the common bean in a European work is likely a 1543 woodcut in the German herbal of Leonhart Fuchs. Ten years later, in 1553, another German herbalist, Georg Oelinger, made a watercolor of a red pole bean that is probably related to the variety known today as frijoles rojos, or Montezuma Red. Common beans were introduced in France in 1597, although they weren’t immediately popular.

Samuel de Champlain (1574–1635) described the companion planting of corn, beans, and squash near what is now Saco, Maine on July 9, 1605. He founded New France and Quebec City on July 3, 1608. Green beans spread into the eastern Mediterranean and by the seventeenth century, were cultivated in Greece and Turkey.

In the 19th century, the French made green beans a household vegetable, with the name haricot verts branding them as “French beans” in the minds of many Europeans. The ‘Beurre de Rocquencourt,’ an heirloom wax bean, was named for Rocquencourt, France, a town in France’s rich farming country. Wax beans were introduced to France in the 1840’s from Algeria, and this variety is surely a descendant of those early beans. These beans are favored by cooks for their fine-flavored pods that are a bright waxy-yellow in color.

The Kentucky Wonder pole bean was introduced in 1877 by Ferry-Morse Seed Company. The first “stringless” bean was developed by Calvin N. Keeney (1849–1930), called the “father of the stringless bean”, while working in Le Roy, New York. Keeney established a seed company at LeRoy as an outgrowth of his interest in green beans. By examining beans in the field, he was able to identify plants with stringless traits. Through careful selection and breeding, he became the leading producer of high-quality string­less beans, beginning with Keeney’s Stringless Refugee Wax in 1884. Keeney also developed many varieties that were sold by other seed companies, the best known being Burpee’s Stringless Green Pod, introduced in 1894.

Blue Lake Green Beans are named for the area in which they were developed in the early 1900s, the Blue Lake area near Ukiah, California, US. They were originally developed for canning. By the mid-to-late 1920s, the beans had been developed into stringless bean for use as a green bean, probably in Oregon. The Tendergreen variety of green beans came on the scene in 1925.

Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup has been around since 1934. It was widely used as casserole filler in the Midwest, and was sometimes referred to as “Lutheran binder.” Dorcas Reilly grew up in Camden, New Jersey, and earned a degree in home economics at Drexel University in 1947. She began working in at the Campbell’s Soup Company in Camden in 1949. Campbell’s had its own test kitchen, dedicated to pumping out recipe pamphlets. Reilly set out to make a quick and easy dish that could be made from ingredients that most Americans have in their pantries. She determined that most households had Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and green beans. With these two staples, in 1955, Reilly successfully devised and tested the infamous Green Bean Casserole recipe. The fried onions on top were an easy way to add texture and brighten the color of a grey-green dish, and to add a certain festive touch to the mundane casserole. Reilly’s recipe was immediately popular. It was the perfect recipe for the holidays, as it was made with minimal ingredients that were almost always on hand, and it could easily be made the day ahead and reheated when guests arrived.

The breakthrough Bush Blue Lake bean was introduced by Asgrow in 1962. That strain combined the great flavor of the Blue Lake pole bean with a bush habit. The pole bean Kentucky Blue, bred by bred by Rogers Bros. Seed Company, was a cross between Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder. It was an All-America Selections winner in 1991.

The popularity of green bean casserole continues today, even in the face of America’s recent obsession with fresh, locally grown foods, and for good reason: green bean casserole has become a traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dish, and in most parts of the country, fresh, local green beans are not available in November and December. When I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, organic local produce was most abundant in the winter months, and I developed my recipe for Fresh Green Bean Casserole. Here in North Carolina, as in with much of the country, fresh green beans are a summer crop. Perhaps Fresh Green Bean Casserole should become a summer holiday tradition. In any case, an estimated 40% of the Cream of Mushroom soup sold in the US today goes into making green bean casserole. And nearly all varieties of edible pod beans today are grown without strings.

Green beans can:

  1. Fight free radicals. The vitamin C in green beans functions as an antioxidant and prevents oxygen-based damage to your cells. Manganese in green beans is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Green beans also contain a wide variety of antioxidant phytochemicals like carotenoids (including lutein, beta-carotene, violaxanthin, and neoxanthin) and flavonoids (including quercetin, kaemferol, catechins, epicatechins, and procyanidins) that have antioxidant properties. In fact, the overall antioxidant capacity of green beans is greater than similar legumes such as snow peas.
  2. Promote cardiovascular health. The vitamin C in green beans helps produce collagen, which supports strong blood vessels. It also helps you absorb iron.  The antioxidants in green beans improves your levels of blood fats and better protects these fats from oxygen damage that can lead to cardiovascular disease. The vitamin K in green beans helps prevent calcification of your arteries.  The fiber in green beans reduces total cholesterol, triglycerides, and Very Low Density Lipoprotein–the most dangerous form of cholesterol. This prevents the buildup of plaque in your arteries, improves cardiovascular health, and helps prevent deaths from coronary heart disease. Folate in green beans supports red blood cell production and helps prevent homocysteine build-up in your blood, which reduces your risk for heart disease. Green beans provide 7.75 milligrams of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in each 100-gram serving, which can also make an important contribution to your cardiovascular health. Your body can convert ALA to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease. Some EPA is converted into series 3 eicosanoids which can reduce blood clotting, inflammation, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
  3. Fight chronic inflammation. The ALA in green beans, when converted to EPA and then to series 3 eicosanoids, can reduce chronic inflammation. The strong carotenoid and flavonoid content of green beans also appears to decrease the activity inflammation-related enzymes such as lipoxygenases (LOX) and cyclooxygenases (COX).
  4. Prevent cancer. The vitamin C in green beans helps prevent cancer by neutralizing volatile oxygen free radical molecules and preventing damage to your DNA that can lead to cancer. It also destabilizes a tumor’s ability to grow under oxygen-starved conditions. The vitamin K in green beans provides possible protection against liver and prostate cancer. Oxalic acid in green beans is believed to be successful in fighting several kinds of tumor cells.
  5. Prevent type 2 diabetes. The chromium in green beans enhances the actions of insulin and is necessary for maintaining normal metabolism and storage of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  Green beans are an excellent source of fiber, which helps prevent type 2 diabetes by slowing the entrance of glucose into your bloodstream, reducing glucose and insulin spikes after meals. And because type 2 diabetes is associated with chronic inflammation, the anti-inflammatory properties of green beans may help prevent type 2 diabetes.
  6. Promote strong tissues. The vitamin C in green beans helps produce collagen, which supports strong bones, muscles, gums, mucous membranes, corneas, joints, and other supporting cells and tissues. It also helps you absorb calcium. The vitamin K in green beans helps protect your bones from fracture and helps prevent postmenopausal bone loss. The vitamin A in green beans is important for healthy skin and mucous membranes and bone and tooth growth. Manganese in green beans facilitates the formation of bone. Folate in green beans acts supports cell production, especially in your skin, and helps prevent osteoporosis-related bone fractures.
  7. Keep you healthy. The vitamin C in green beans supports your immune system; processes toxins for elimination; and acts as an antihistamine. The vitamin A in green beans is also important for immune system health.

Nutrients in 100 grams of fresh, raw, Green Snap Beans

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C

16.3 mg

27%

chromium

5 µg

20%

vitamin K

14.4 µg

18%

vitamin A

690 IU

14%

fiber

3.4 g

14%

manganese

0.2 mg

11%

folate

37 µg

9%

molybdenum

5 µg

6.7%

magnesium

25 mg

6.2%

potassium

209 mg

6%

iron

1 mg

6%

thiamine

0.1 mg

6%

riboflavin

0.1 mg

6%

phosphorus

38 mg

4%

calcium

37 mg

4%

protein

1.8 g

4%

niacin

0.8 mg

4%

vitamin B6

0.1 mg

4%

iodine

6 µg

4%

choline

15.3 mg

3.6%

copper

0.1 mg

3%

omega-3 fatty acids

0.07 g

2.9%

carbohydrates

7.1 g

2%

vitamin E

0.4 mg

2%

zinc

0.2 mg

2%

Calories

31

1.55%

selenium

0.6 µg

1%

pantothenic acid

0.1 mg

1%

sodium

6 mg

0.25%

fat

0.1 g

0.15%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

lutein+zeaxanthin

640 µg

carotene-ß

379 µg

carotene-a

69 µg

Green beans are available year round, with a peak season of May to October.

Green beans should be slender, straight-sided, and blemish-free. They should look and feel firm, not as stiff as a stick, but fairly stiff, and if you break one it should snap sharply, with a spray of juice from the seam. Avoid green beans that are soft or flaccid, as they are no longer fresh. Also avoid green beans with obvious seed bumps pressing up through the pods, as they were left too long on the vines. Finally, select a bunch of beans that are all roughly the same thickness and length, as they will cook at a uniform rate.

Green beans will keep for about 4 days, wrapped and refrigerated.

Rinse beans thoroughly in clear, cool water. Lift beans from the wash water and leave dirt and other debris behind. Rinse again.

You may occasionally still come across green beans that have strings. Remove them by snapping off an end and pulling the string away with the end. However, most beans sold now are stringless, and all you need do to prepare them is trim the tips.

Beans can be cooked whole, cut crosswise, diagonally or French-cut. If you want sweet tasting, crisp fresh beans, cut them as little as possible. Cut older, more mature beans in the French style: slice them lengthwise and then diagonally.

Steaming or stir-frying preserves the best qualities of the fresh bean. Whatever cooking method you choose, remember to cook beans as little as possible using the smallest amount of water possible. Also, the fewer beans in the pan, the quicker they cook and the better they taste. If cooking more than one pound (4 cups) at a time, use separate pans.

To steam beans, bring water to a gentle boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add trimmed green beans to a steamer basket and steam, covered, 4 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. You may need to experiment with the degree of tenderness you like.

Green beans pair well with basil, dill, cumin, curry, garlic, lemon juice, nutmeg, tarragon, thyme, and vinegar. They are a featured ingredient in the classic dish, Salad Nicoise, that pairs new potatoes with steamed green beans dressed lightly with vinaigrette.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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