We’re clearly filled with beans. From the U.S. alone, we consume about 8 lbs of beans annually, per capita, and the current popularity of Mexican cuisine plays no small role. The U.S. plants about 1.6 million acres a year. Worldwide production of dry beans was over 18 million metric tons in 2016, the top producers are Myanmar (Burma), India and Brazil.
China loves their soybeans (edamame) and mung beans, the Middle East grinds garbanzos for hummus and tahini, Mexico serves up refried pinto and black beans, Italy makes their trademark minestrone with cannellini and red kidney beans, and the U.S. favors them baked, or cajun red beans and rice. While once considered an inferior food, beans are stored in high favor worldwide.
Domesticated beans in the Americas were located in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, dating back to around the 2nd millennium BC. For centuries, they were a staple. They are dried and carried on boats, they continued through a long cold winter, they are soaked or boiled readily and they filled empty stomachs. Beans are one of the oldest cultivated plants, providing a significant source of protein and nutrition throughout Old and New World history.
Fava beans were a significant source of food to the early Israelites and are still eaten primarily in Mediterranean countries. Old Testament civilizations such as Jericho and Babylon consumed them every day. The Aztecs and Incas grew and ate beans as a important part of their diet. They were also used as counting tools and cash, and seemed symbolically at weddings.
Italian Renaissance gourmet Bartholomew Scappi described dishes of beans, eggs, cinnamon, walnuts, sugar, onions and butter in his cookbooks. Catherine d’ Medici of Florence was allegedly so fond of Italy’s cannellini beans, she smuggled some to France when she married Henry, Duke of Orleans, later to become King Henry II of France. (You know those French chefs–beans were considered beneath them.) If this story is true, we can thank Queen Catherine for cassoulet, a French delicacy made with goose fat, duck or lamb and white beans. (When the Queen wanted legumes, her French chefs jumped)
During the 9th century, Charlemagne (King Charles I) restored productivity to European lands which were ravaged by war, ordering chickpeas to become a major crop which helped stop starvation in his vast kingdom,
Early American colonists cultivated multiple kinds. They have been used in soups and stews and may be dried to feed large families throughout the winter, when food was scarce. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed many different types of beans from his abundant garden, experimenting with different varieties and creating new recipes for his dinner guests. (Well, okay, our foodie president did not actually cook, but he chased his French-trained chef.)
In the early 1900s, a guy named Henry J Heinz put canned baked beans on the map, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Nowadays, Heinz baked beans is among the most recognizable and popular canned foods on the grocery shelves. Surprisingly, the very best bean eaters in the world are the U.K. nations. Worldwide, a whopping 2 million people consume baked beans every day.
What’s more American than franks and beans? Or chili?