The Bean Family: Fresh Beans and Peas

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Unlike most edible fruits, the fruits of the bean family were not designed to appeal to seed-dispersing animals. This group of plants is often called the legumes, “legume” being the name for their particular kind of fruit, a thin-walled pod, dry and brittle when mature, that encloses several seeds and disperses them by popping open when they’re disturbed. It’s in their dry form that we harvest most legume crops, since they can be stored indefinitely and are a concentrated source of nourishment (see chapter 9). Green beans and peas are immature pods and/or seeds, harvested before they begin to dry out, and are both very ancient and very recent foods. Early humans likely first ate the green pods and seeds, since dried seeds required cooking. However, the dried forms were so much more useful that varieties with pods specialized for eating green—with no tough inner “parchment” layer and reduced fiber throughout—have only been bred for a few hundred years.