Techniques

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

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Beans have been part of the human diet for centuries. The Ancient Egyptians knew them, as did the ancient cultures of the Americas.

Bean is a general term that encompasses several plants. Beans are historically considered peasant food, but with the advent of television cooking shows, the versatility of beans is enjoying new popularity.

The word “bean” generally refers to the legume, large plant seeds found within long pods from plant family fabaceae. Soybeans, peas, lentils, and kidney beans are examples of legumes. When the seeds are dried, they are referred to as pulses. Many beans are only sold in dry form, while some, such as the pea, come both dried and fresh.

Beans are an excellent choice for low-fat protein, with more than twice the amount of protein as grain. They are a smart addition to any diet, but vegetarians, especially, use beans to achieve a daily source of complete protein.

Complete Protein
Protein is composed of twenty amino acids. Of the twenty, eleven of them are called non-essential, because they are made by our bodies, and so we do not need to consume them. The remaining nine amino acids are called essential, and it is important that people eat these every day. Getting all nine essential amino acids is not hard for meat eaters, because animal protein is complete. It contains all nine.

Vegetarians, however, must seek out plant foods that contain proteins, consuming those with the right mixture of amino acids. It sounds complicated, but grains, nuts, and legumes each contain proteins not found in other plants, so adding a variety of these to the vegetarian diet does the trick.

Eating these plant foods in combination is called complimentary proteins. When they are eaten over the course of a day, protein intake is complete. Protein derived from complimentary plant proteins is considered a healthy alternative to meat, and by many people, a superior one. In addition to the protein, these combinations contain high quality fiber, vitamins, minerals, and no saturated fat.

Why worry about protein? It is needed to build and maintain muscles, organs, connective tissues, skin, bones, teeth, blood, and our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). It helps the body heal when it is sick, wounded, and depleted. Without it, even mild exercise would weaken you to the point of exhaustion. Incorporating one of these bean-based salads in your weekly menu will help ensure your family stays deliciously healthy.

The Magical Fruit
Most beans contain a type of sugar, raffinose, which is not easily digested by humans. While most food is broken down in our small intestines, we lack the enzymes needed to break down raffinose in the normal way. Consequently, this sugar is broken down in the large intestine by bacteria, which produces flatulence.

There are certain natural ingredients that have been found to lessen this effect, as well as some man-made supplements. Spices such as caraway and dill, seaweed products, and the herb epazote, used in Latin cuisines, are much-used anti-gas ingredients.

Canned vs. Dried
Beans are available in dried or canned form. Canned beans are readily available, which makes it easy to add beans into your everyday diet.

Dried beans are less expensive, but they take longer to cook. They must first undergo a long soaking period to tenderize them. This is best done by covering them with cold water and letting them sit for a 12-24 hour period. Test a bean for moisture by cutting it in half. You’ll be able to see how far the water has soaked into the bean.

Once fully moistened, they are ready to be cooked. Cover with clean cold water and simmer for 1-2 hours, until tender.

If you forget to soak your beans you can try the quick-soak method. Cover the beans with water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and rest 1 hour.

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