Broad Beans: A hidden gem among legumes

by  Dr Rupy Aujla24 May 2023

Broad beans – also called fava beans – may initially appear intimidating, but don't let that deter you. They offer a surprising variety of flavours and textures that are worth exploring.

In a Nutshell

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History Snippets

Broad beans are legumes that are deeply ingrained in traditions across the globe. They have served as valuable and affordable sources of nourishment for countless generations.

Hunter-Gatherers: The plant originated in the Middle East in prehistoric times when legumes were collected by hunter-gatherers as valuable protein sources. Recent archaeological finds discovered broad bean specimens dating back 14,000 years in a sedentary hunter-gatherers’ campsite! (Caracuta et al.2016)

The Agricultural Revolution: Together with other pulses, broad bean became part of the agricultural revolution – about 10, 000 years ago when humans transitioned from wild harvesting to cultivation.

During the Middle Ages: In the midst of a devastating drought in Sicily, broad beans were one of the only spared crops, keeping the population from starvation. Thanks were given to Saint Joseph for answering their prayers. To this day, Sicilians honour Saint Joseph every year and add broad beans to their tables to represent good luck and abundance. Some people carry a dried bean in their wallets to bring good fortune. (McGill)

Research Digest

Like peas, broad beans are one of your legumes. Regularly eating legumes was associated with beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and cancer prevention.

A closer look at one study: A 2014 meta-analysis combined the results of 26 human clinical trials. Participants were given pulses to eat, mostly beans, at a median of 130g/day for 3+ weeks. The results? Regularly consuming pulses significantly reduced participants’ markers of cardiovascular risk, specifically LDL cholesterol, compared to diets without pulses.

But wait, that’s not the end of the story: Most trials used different types of beans, peas, and lentils. So, it’s hard to distinguish the effects of each type and fresh vs dried. We need longer, better-designed trials looking at various legumes and health markers for a better understanding.

What does it mean? Combined with other meta-analyses, these results suggest the beneficial role of a variety of beans, peas and lentils in our diets.

So, what’s in a broad bean? Let’s get nerdy…

Quick Food Science

Several components may contribute to beneficial effects on our health:

  • Dietary fibres – Linked to prebiotic effects and preventive effects against diabetes, obesity and colon cancer.
  • Bioactive compounds – Particularly phenolic acids and flavonoids, which have several reported health benefits. Plus non-protein amino acids, like the dopamine precursor L-DOPA.
  • Proteins – Broad beans pack more protein than most beans. They’re rich in lysine, which complements well the low levels in cereals.
  • Folate and vitamin C (Dhull et al. 2022)

In Daily Life: Mix it up with a variety of whole foods, including regular servings of mixed beans, peas and lentils. Keep scrolling for some cooking inspiration!

Earth to Plate

Soil Helpers: Legumes have a remarkable talent for teaming up with soil bacteria, enriching the soil with nitrogen. This reduces the use of synthetic fertilisers and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Seed to Plate: Broad beans can be ready to harvest from late spring to late summer, depending on the sowing time and variety. They can be picked at a tender vegetative stage when the pods are fresh and green or left to mature until the pods and beans dry out, offering diverse culinary possibilities!

Tasty Tips

Around the World

Broad beans have become a breakfast staple in traditional diets across the globe.

  • Middle East: Medamis – Traditionally made by mashing broad beans with spices and serving with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley. It originated in Egypt and then migrated to other countries such as Lebanon and Iraq.
  • Morocco: Bissara – A delicious pureed broad bean dip or soup that’s popular street food.
  • Ethiopia: Ful Medames – A savoury breakfast dish made from stewed broad beans in a berbere and tomato sauce.
  • Greece: Koukia – Paired with a lemon, dill, fennel and parsley sauce.

Buying & Prepping: When possible, choose frozen over canned, as freezing better preserves the nutrient content compared to industrial canning. Enjoy small beans as they are and double-pod larger ones. Check out these tips.

My Favourite Non-Recipe Ways to Enjoy Broad Beans

  • Quick Snack: Drizzle with olive oil and spices. Roast in the oven until crispy.
  • Spring on Toast: Boil until tender and mash on sourdough bread with olive oil, lemon juice, mint and feta.
  • Vibrant Salads: Add them to mixed greens with sliced courgette, red onion, chopped nuts, mint, feta and a lemon dressing.
  • Sauces & Dips: Boil until tender and blend with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and spices.
  • Quick Side Dish: Sauté with garlic and herbs.
  • In a Stew: Sauté onions, garlic, cumin, paprika & oregano. Add the beans and some stock. Simmer until the mixture thickens. Top with a bunch of fresh herbs, olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper.

Get Cooking!

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by Dr Rupy Aujla


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