Shelling beans icon

The farm-fresh version of dry beans found in bulk bins or bags, shell beans offer creamy, toothsome texture and complex, nutty flavor, as well as less preparation time than dried beans.

Dried shelling beans with one open revealing beans.

SEASONAL in Southern California

History

The world’s most sustainable form of protein, shell beans refers to a variety of beans that must be removed from their pod before being cooked. Originating from a wild vining plant in Central America that was domesticated 7,000 years ago, shell beans were bred into myriad varieties through the migration and trading practices of indigenous people and were eventually carried by colonial invaders back to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Throughout time, shell beans have adapted to a wide spectrum of growing conditions, while replenishing the soil with vital bacteria and nitrogen.

Nutrition

Along with being the world’s most sustainable form of protein, shell beans are high in folate, thiamin, fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, as well as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory flavonoids.

Storage

Store shell beans (shelled or in pods) in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Preparation

Fresh shell beans require only a fraction of the cooking time needed for dry beans. Depending on the variety, shell beans will become tender within 10 to 60 minutes of being simmered in liquid. Shell beans can be braised in aromatic liquid with herbs, chiles, and other spices, and served over pasta, gratin, salad, or crusty bread. Cooked shell beans can also be pureed into dips, sautéed or fried with greens and other vegetables, or oven-dried until crispy.

Cooking

Cut the whole radicchio into wedges, toss with olive oil, and top with shaved semi-hard cheese such as Gruyere or Reggiano. Broil at high heat until the red leaves turn reddish-brown. Serve warm with a citrus vinaigrette.

Pro Tips

Unlike dried beans, shell beans don’t require soaking before they are cooked. Do not use salted water to cook shell beans, as it will cause their naturally soft skins to toughen. Instead, season beans to taste after they are cooked.

Black Shell Bean

Perhaps the closest descendant of the original shelling bean, the black bean is a staple of Central and South American cuisine. Known in the past as Black Turtle beans, they did not gain popularity in the United States until well-known journalist Jane Cunningham Croly published a recipe for black bean soup in her 1866 recipe compendium Jennie June’s American Cookery Book.

Borlotti Shell Bean

Known by a number of names such as cranberry bean, Roman bean, or saluggia bean, these shelling beans are large, with a hazelnut-colored background streaked with red, magenta or black. First bred in Colombia, the Borlotti bean is now frequently used in Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Greek cuisine.

Cannellini Shell Bean

Often referred to as white kidney beans, cannellini beans were first developed in Argentina, but rose to prominence in central and southern Italy. They are synonymous with rustic dishes from Tuscany, such as pasta e fagioli and ribollita.

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