Bean Flavor

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Beans owe their typical beany flavor to a large endowment of the enzyme lipoxygenase, which breaks unsaturated fatty acids into small, odorous molecules. The main components of beaniness are grassy hexanal and hexanol and mushroomy octenol. Lipoxygenase gets its chance to act when the bean cells are damaged and there’s enough moisture and oxygen available: for example, when fresh beans are bruised, or dried damaged beans are soaked or brought slowly to a boil. The strong beaniness of soybean products is generally accepted in Asia but objected to in the West, where food scientists have developed techniques to minimize it (see box). The aroma of cooked beans also has a distinct sweet note, which comes from lactones, furans, and maltol.