What are broad beans?
Fat, waxy and green broad beans are a favourite of Europeans who use them to add texture and nutrients to countless meals. One tasty favourite is a Spanish-style dish featuring broad beans, ham, garlic, sautéed onion and herbs, topped with roughly chopped hardboiled egg.
Broad beans were a popular food in the diets of the ancient Romans and Greeks, although the bean was originally native to North Africa and the south of Asia. The growing of broad beans goes back to 6000 BC, making it one of the oldest plants cultivated by humans.
This hardy vegetable can cope with extreme climates, where it has the additional benefit of helping to fertilise the soil as it grows – the plant of the broad bean has bacteria in the nodules of its root system that produce nitrogen in the soil. This nitrogen is an important nutrient for other plants.
In Australia, broad beans available in supermarkets are not usually sold by variety. Seeds from an heirloom variety (Aquadulce) can be purchased from various sources and produce long pods containing eight to nine seeds. The Coles Dwarf variety produces an abundant crop and copes well in windy areas.
Why broad beans are good to eat
Broad beans are rich in fibre and vitamin A.
- They are an excellent source of protein in a vegetarian diet.
- Energy – 100 g of cooked broad beans supply 340 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
In Victoria, the best time to plant broad beans is between March and early May. They will then be ready to pick in spring. The bushy broad bean plant can grow up to one metre. Broad beans ripen from the base of the plant upwards, so make sure you check the lower part of the plant first when harvesting.
You can pick broad beans at different stages. If you pick them early, you can use the pods like you would young green beans. Harvesting them a little later means that the immature seeds are still soft and can be removed from the pod for eating. If you leave the beans on the vine for longer (until they are fully mature), then the skins become more leathery and tough and the seeds dry. These dried seeds are called lima beans.
Choosing broad beans
Fat, glossy, green pods are signs of fresh broad beans. Choose broad beans with pods that feel firm to the touch. Avoid those with blemishes or damaged skin.
How to store and keep broad beans
Store broad beans in the crisper section of your fridge. Broad beans taste best when used shortly after purchase. You should use them within four days.
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