Kicking it up a Notch With Kidney Beans

Kidney beans are a variety of common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). They share their species with green snap beanspinto beansheirloom beansGreat Northern beansblack turtle beans, cranberry and borlotti beans, flageolet beans, pea beans, pink beans, other white beans, and yellow beans. These beans, along with corn (maize), and squash were the “three sisters” of Native American cuisine.

Common beans share the genus Phaseolus with tepary beans, runner beans, slimjim beans, lima beans, and spotted beans. All of these beans belong to the the family Fabaceae, along with edible-pod and mature peassoybeansfava beansblack-eyed peasjicamaadzuki beanslentilslima beanschickpeas, peanuts, carob, and licorice. The family also includes broom, gorse, and kudzu.

Kidney 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 encountered 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 common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris. When Christopher Columbus returned from his second voyage to the New World in 1493, he brought the common beans back with him to Europe.

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485–1528) was a Florentine explorer in the service of King Francis I of France. On July 8, 1524, he wrote to King Francis, reporting on 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)…” Native Americans boiled the bean pods at the mature stage and pulled the beans between their teeth, discarding the pods.

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján (1510 – 22 September 1554) and his fellow explorers are believed to have been the first Europeans to eat beans grown by Native Americans in what is now New Mexico, between 1540 and 1542.

The English first used the name “kidney bean” in 1551 to distinguish the American common bean from Old World types.

Grown in Colonial America, kidney beans were cultivated by Acadian farmers in Louisiana in the late 1700s and planted by Spanish settlers. Haitians emigrating to New Orleans in the late 1700s brought spicy Caribbean recipes for beans and rice. Enslaved African plantation workers along the Mississippi River also ate meals of spicy “red beans” and rice.

In New Orleans red beans and rice was prepared on Mondays because the dish could simmer on the stove all day while laundry was being washed. New Orleans’ favorite son, jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, is said to have signed his letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours.”

Kidney beans can:

  1. Detoxify sulfites. Kidney beans are an excellent source of the trace mineral, molybdenum, an integral component of the enzyme sulfite oxidase, which is responsible for detoxifying sulfites. Sulfites are a type of preservative commonly added to prepared foods like delicatessen salads and salad bars. People who are sensitive to sulfites may experience rapid heartbeat, headache, or disorientation if they consume sulfites. If you have ever reacted to sulfites, it may be because your molybdenum stores are insufficient to detoxify them.
  2. Promote cardiovascular health. The folate in kidney beans helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic cycle. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine are a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease.  The soluble fiber lowers your cholesterol levels by binding with bile, which contains cholesterol, and carrying it out of your body. Phosphorus in kidney beans helps maintain a steady heartbeat. Thiamine also supports proper heart function. The magnesium in kidney beans acts as a calcium channel blocker, which relaxes veins and arteries, reducing blood pressure and improving the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. The potassium is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Saponins in kidney beans lower blood cholesterol and decrease risk of cardiovascular disease. Kaempferol seems to prevent arteriosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein and the formation of platelets in the blood.
  3. Give you energy while stabilizing your blood sugar. Kidney beans provide steady, slow-burning energy, and their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal. Phosphorus helps you efficiently use carbohydrates and fatsThiamine in kidney beans maintains your energy supplies and coordinates the activity of nerves and muscles. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. The iron in kidney beans is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from your lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. The vitamin B6  supports a wide range of activities in your nervous system and promotes proper breakdown of sugars and starches. Hemoglobin synthesis relies on the copper in kidney beans; without it, your red blood cells cannot properly use iron. Saponins in kidney beans lower blood glucose responses, and kaempferol has antidiabetic activities.
  4. Promote digestive health. The insoluble fiber in kidney beans not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.
  5. Fight free radicals. Kidney beans are an excellent source of manganese and a very good source of copper, two trace minerals that are essential cofactors of a key antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within your mitochondria (the energy production factories within your cells). Saponins in kidney beans prevent cancer cells from growing and mutating, neutralize free radicals to prevent disease. Kaempferol is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative damage of your cells, lipids, and DNA, and acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
  6. Build strong, flexible bodies. A cup of kidney beans provides 31% of the Daily Value for proteinPhosphorus in kidney beans helps in the formation of bones and teeth, synthesis of protein, and muscle contraction. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function and keeps bones strong. Copper is also necessary for the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in cross-linking collagen and elastin, both of which provide strength and flexibility in blood vessels, bones, and joints. Saponins in kidney beans stimulate your immune system by increasing the production of antibodies, fight bacterial and fungal infections, reduce inflammation, prevent dental cavities, protect against bone loss, and increase the effectiveness of certain vaccines. Kaempferol has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, neuroprotective, anti-osteoporotic, antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic, and antiallergic activities.
  7. Maintain your brain function. The thiamine in kidney beans is critical for brain cell and cognitive function. This is because thiamine is needed for the synthesis of acetyl choline, the important neurotransmitter essential for memory and whose lack has been found to be a significant contributing factor in age-related impairment in mental function (senility) and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nutrients in 1 Cup Cooked Kidney Beans



Daily Value


132.75 µg



230.1 µg



11.3 g



0.76 mg



15.35 g



244.26 mg



3.93 mg



716.85 mg



0.38 mg



0.28 mg



74.34 mg



40.36 g






1.77 mg


vitamin B6

0.21 mg



61.95 mg



0.1 mg



1.02 mg


pantothenic acid

0.39 mg


vitamin C

2.12 mg



0.88 g



1.77 mg



0 mg


Most grocery stores sell kidney beans either canned or dried. Dried beans often have the closest flavor to fresh. Canned beans are more convenient, but may contain additives or extra salt added to them to help preserve their color and flavor.

For dried beans, make sure there’s no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that beans are whole and not cracked. If buying in bulk, make sure that the bins are covered and the store has a good product turnover rate to ensure maximum freshness.

Store dried kidney beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place where they will keep for up to 12 months. If you purchase kidney beans at different times, store them separately; they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times. Cooked kidney beans will keep fresh in a covered container in the refrigerator for about three days.

Before washing dried kidney beans, spread them on a plate or cooking surface to check for small stones, debris, or damaged beans. Then, place the beans in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water.

Note that most of the phosphorus in kidney beans is in a storage form of phosphate called phytic acid or phytate. Seeds are how most plants reproduce. When they are eaten by animals, it is beneficial to the survival of their species if they can pass through the animal’s digestive system intact to be deposited, encased in fertilizer, elsewhere. In order for the plant to reproduce, it’s necessary that the seed pass through the digestive tract whole (undigested). Many plant seeds have developed defense mechanisms to make them more difficult to digest, including enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion and other natural substances that block nutrient absorption. Phytic acid prevents premature germination and stores nutrients for plant growth. Unfortunately, it also reduces the absorption of the important minerals calciummagnesiumiron, and zinc, and reduces the digestibility of protein. This applies not only to the minerals and protein in the food containing the phytic acid, but also the food that you eat with it. Over time, these phytates can lead to mineral deficiencies, allergies, and irritation of the intestinal tract. Only about 50% of the phosphorus from phytate is available to humans because we lack phytase, the enzyme that liberates phosphorus from phytate.

Traditionally, humans soaked, sprouted,  or fermented beans before eating them, processes that neutralizes phytates and enzyme inhibitors so that all the nutrients are more available.

When a plant seed undergoes germination, changes occur that provide the growing plant with needed nutrients. These changes include the breakdown of phytic acid, the inactivation of protease inhibitors, and the increased availability of vitamins and minerals, all of which increase the nutritional value of the seed and improve its digestibility. In nature, germination typically occurs when a plant seed encounters conditions that are favorable for growth, and that typically involves water. You can easily initiate the germination of kidney beans by soaking them in 2-3 cups of water per cup of beans. Soaking reduces phytic acid in about 12 hours. Soaking can also increase the content of some vitamins and help break down complex carbohydrates such as raffinose-type oligosaccharides (sugars associated with causing flatulence). Cooking also deactivates natural plant toxins that may still exist after soaking.

To prevent kidney beans from absorbing chemicals from the water or container that they’re soaking in, consider using a glass or ceramic container and filtered water. It may also be beneficial to use lukewarm water and increase its acidity with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice or vinegar. Soak kidney beans for 12 to 24 hours in water with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Rinse well and cook as usual in 2-3 cups of fresh water per cup of dried beans.

Soaking seeds is easy; it just takes takes a little discipline. In the evening, put your kidney beans in a bowl and cover them with filtered water. By the next day, the beans are ready to cook.

You can cook kidney beans either on the stove top or in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. For the stove top method, add three cups of fresh water for each cup of dried beans. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, partially covering the pot. If any foam develops, simply skim it off during the simmering process. kidney beans generally take about one to one and one-half hours to become tender using this method.

You can also cook kidney beans in a pressure cooker, where soaked kidney beans take about 10-12 minutes to prepare, or in a slow cooker, where they take about six to nine hours on high. Note that all beans, but especially red kidney beans, contain a toxic agent called Phytohaemagglutinin, but this toxin is generally destroyed after 10 minutes of boiling.

Regardless of cooking method, do not add any salt or acid (like tomatoes) until after beans have been cooked; adding them earlier will make the beans tough and greatly increase the cooking time. To aid in digestion, you can add to your cooking beans a four-inch strip of the sea vegetable kombu, available dried in the Asian specialty section of grocery stores. Also try adding a teaspoon of epazote per pound of beans. Epazote is a traditional herb of central America that is believed to help with digestion.

Kidney beans are suitable for any number of uses: salads, soups, stews, ragouts, purees, and so forth. Season them with bay leaf, cumin, fenneloreganoparsley, sage, savory, or thyme.

Some serving ideas:

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 blog 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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