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All about not-so-humble broad beans

Beneath the velvety green pods of the broad bean lies a nutritional powerhouse waiting to be unleashed. Often overlooked in the legume family, broad beans, also known as fava beans, boast an impressive array of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, making them a delicious and versatile addition to any diet or dish.

This classic late-spring/early-summer legume is a great choice for introducing kids to greens as very few people are allergic to them and they have a close resemblance to the humble garden pea, a vegetable most kids will eat.

To help you see the broad bean light, we’ve highlighted some of our favourite broad bean recipes, nutrition benefits and tips on how to cook broad beans.

Broad Bean History

Probably the oldest cultivated vegetable in Europe, broad beans are thought to have been grown as a crop for at least 10,000 years. If you pop the beans out of their shells, you’ll recognise these as fava beans, essentially they’re the same thing, except technically fava beans tend to refer to the dried versions of the most mature of broad beans.

Like all beans they come from the legume family – sometimes referred to in olden times as ‘poor man’s meat’ because they have high levels of protein. But the nutritional benefits are far greater than that. They are high in fibre, and diets rich in legumes are said to be able to help lower cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar balance and reduce the risk of many cancers. They are also packed with minerals and antioxidants and so great to have in your diet. 

Of course, there’s the old adage ‘beans, beans, good for your heart, the more you eat the more ….’ Well, you get the picture… So do they cause wind? Well, there’s a substance in them called oligosaccharides. We can’t absorb these and so they go into the gut undigested where resident bacteria can go to town on them with wind being a by-product. Properly cooking the beans or sprouting them can help reduce these substances and minimise any issues. 

If you are vegan, you might want to consider combining them with grains, rice, or nuts and seeds to get a complete protein. And it’s worth being wary of a relatively little-known condition called favism that can cause dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. If you think you suffer from this, they are best avoided, but other than that, they are a great staple to add into your eating plan.

Broad Bean Nutrition Values

One cup (170g) of cooked broad beans provides (USDA FoodData Central):

  • Calories: 185
  • Protein: 8.5g (17% of daily value)
  • Fiber: 8.8g (35% of daily value)
  • Manganese: 0.4mg (20% of daily value)
  • Folate: 137mcg (34% of daily value)
  • Copper: 0.1mg (10% of daily value)
  • Iron: 1.2mg (7% of daily value)
  • Potassium: 230mg (5% of daily value)
  • Phosphorus: 177mg (13% of daily value)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.2mg (10% of daily value)

This nutritional profile alone makes broad beans a worthy contender for your pantry. They are a low-calorie, high-protein source, ideal for promoting satiety and supporting weight management. The abundance of fibre further aids digestion and gut health, while manganese and folate play crucial roles in energy production and red blood cell formation.

Broad Bean Benefits - Broad Bean Recipes

Broad Bean Benefits

The benefits of broad beans extend far beyond their impressive nutritional composition. Studies have linked regular consumption to a range of health advantages, including:

  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases: The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of broad beans may help protect against heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers (1, 2).
  • Improved blood sugar control: The high fibre content helps regulate blood sugar levels, making broad beans a valuable addition to diabetic diets (3).
  • Enhanced brain function: The presence of L-dopa, a precursor to dopamine, may contribute to improved cognitive function and mood (4).
  • Boosted immunity: The rich vitamin and mineral profile of broad beans supports a healthy immune system (5).

How To Cook Broad Beans

There are several ways to cook broad beans, and the method you choose will depend on their freshness and whether you want to remove the outer skins. Here are a few options:

Fresh broad beans:

To eat with the skins:

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Add the fresh broad beans.
  3. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking.
  5. Squeeze each bean gently to pop out the bright green inner bean.
  6. Discard the outer skins.

To peel:

  1. Follow steps 1-3 above.
  2. Leave the beans in the ice water for a few minutes.
  3. Rub the beans gently between your fingers to loosen the skins.
  4. Pinch the top of each bean and pull the skin downward to remove it.

Frozen broad beans:

  1. No need to thaw.
  2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Add the frozen broad beans.
  4. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
  5. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.
  6. You can eat the beans with the skins on or peel them as described above.

Dried broad beans:

  1. Soak the beans in water for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain and rinse.
  3. Follow steps 1-3 for fresh beans (with or without skins).

Tips:

  • You can also steam or roast broad beans. For steaming, place them in a steamer basket and steam for 5-7 minutes. For roasting, toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at 400°F (200°C) for 15-20 minutes, until tender and slightly crispy.
  • Broad beans have a slightly sweet, nutty flavour. They pair well with herbs like mint, dill, and parsley, and spices like garlic, cumin, and paprika.
  • You can use cooked broad beans in a variety of dishes, such as salads, soups, stews, stir-fries, and dips.

The versatility of broad beans is truly remarkable. They can be enjoyed fresh, frozen, or dried, and their slightly sweet, nutty flavour lends itself to a variety of culinary applications. Here are some ways to incorporate them into your meals:

  • Fresh and vibrant: Shell fresh broad beans and toss them into salads, pasta dishes, or stir-fries for a burst of colour and texture.
  • Creamy and dreamy: Blend cooked broad beans into dips, hummus, or soups for a velvety smooth texture and rich flavour.
  • Crispy and satisfying: Roast broad beans with herbs and spices for a delicious and healthy snack.
  • Mashed and magnificent: Mash cooked broad beans with potatoes or other root vegetables for a unique and flavourful side dish.
  • Global inspiration: Explore the world of broad beans with recipes from various cultures, such as falafel from the Middle East, fava bean stew from Italy, or broad bean curry from India.
Broad Bean Recipes - Broad Bean Falafel

Broad Bean Recipes For You To Try

To truly appreciate the culinary magic of broad beans, let’s delve into some delicious recipes:

  • Springtime Broad Bean Salad with Lemon and Dill: This refreshing salad combines fresh broad beans with chopped cucumbers, radishes, and a tangy lemon-dill dressing. View Recipe Here.
  • Creamy Broad Bean and Pea Soup: This hearty soup is perfect for a comforting meal, featuring blended broad beans and peas, fresh herbs, and a touch of cream. View Recipe Here.
  • Crispy Roasted Broad Beans with Garlic and Thyme: These addictive roasted beans are a perfect snack or appetiser, with a simple yet flavourful combination of garlic, thyme, and olive oil. View Recipe Here.
  • Broad Bean Curry with Coconut Milk and Naan: This fragrant curry features broad beans simmered in a creamy coconut milk sauce, perfect for dipping warm naan bread. View Recipe Here.
  • Elevated Broad Bean Falafel: Our very own recipe, our fabulous falafel, made with broad beans instead of chickpeas. Vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free, they are again packed with protein and fibre and taste simply delicious.

Our Elevated Falafel is a lighter, greener, healthier and simple-to-cook alternative to the commonly seen deep fried chickpea based meze dish. And it’s also a great way to get kids to eat more beans. Some of the highlights from a nutritional sense are broad beans, high in plant protein and fibre, low in fat and packed with antioxidants. We’ve combined them with spinach for iron levels and B vitamins, a heap of healthy herbs: coriander, parsley and dill, plus tahini paste, which is a paste from sesame seeds. We’re also using our Asian Paste Brilliant Base in this dish to enhance the nutrition even further. The falafel are also rolled in gram flour and sesame seeds, the addition of which gives you a complete source of protein in this fabulous vegan dish.

If you’re a member you can view the recipe here. 

If you’re not yet subscribed to Elevated Food For Life Recipes you can sign up here. 

 

References

1. Fava bean (Vicia faba L.) and its nutraceutical properties: a review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8441412/

2. Dietary Fava Bean Intake and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in the PLCO Trial: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35129907/

3. The effect of fava beans (Vicia faba L.) on postprandial glycemia and insulinemia in type 2 diabetic patients: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0308814600003149

4. The Role of L-Dopa in the Central Nervous System: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5634697/

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