Beans have been a part of human’s diets for thousands of years, and they come in hundreds of sizes, shapes, and colors. The term “bean” is quite broad and covers a variety of plants from the Leguminosae family. Also, we use that same term for the seeds of plants that we consume as food. In the beginning, only the broad bean or fava bean was called a bean. Over time, other plants – such as the runner bean, common bean, vetches, chickpeas, lupins, peas, soybeans, and even seeds of plants that aren’t similar to beans (e.g., coffee and cocoa beans) – were named bean.
Beans are amazingly convenient and versatile because they can be dried and stored for years. To bring them back to life, you only need to soak them in water for a couple of hours to activate their proteins, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Some of them can be eaten raw, but they are typically cooked or sprouted. They can also be curdled into tofu, ground into flour, and fermented into miso, tempi, and soy sauce.
The History of Dried Beans
When discussing the history of the dry bean, the story begins in South America. For thousands of years, beans have been a staple food which was first domesticated more than 7,000 years ago in southern Mexico and Peru. In Mexico, the Indians developed black beans, white beans, and other color patterns and colors. In Peru (Andes), there was also a wide array of colors, but their colors were more bright and lively. Another difference between beans from these two cultivation centers was that the Peruvian natives developed large-seeded bean varieties, while the Mexican tribes cultivated small-seeded types.
Because Indian tribes wandered across the American continent through a complex system of trade routes and trading centers, they migrated, explored, and traded with other tribes. These native farming practices and beans spread gradually all over North and South America. Besides beans, they traveled with other supplies, such as stones for tool making, animal hides, and shells. After generations of cultivation and selection, each tribe had its own locally-adapted bean for trade, seed, food, and gifts.
The Common Bean
The common bean is native to the Americas, where it was a staple of the native people of the Andes and Mesoamerica. It is a vining plant with small seeds and twisted pods that’s the mother of almost all modern beans – dry beans, soup beans, shell beans, and snap beans. It still grows wild in parts of Mexico. The oldest cultivation of the common bean dated about 8,000 years ago and was found in Peru. Three other types of bean in this genus have been domesticated:
- Tepary beans – cultivated about 5,000 years ago in northwestern Mexico (the Sonoran Desert) and the southwestern United States.
- Runner beans – cultivated in Mexico about 2,200 years ago.
- Lima beans – cultivated near Lima, Peru, about 5,500 years ago.
From the Americas to Europe, Asia, and Africa
For thousands of years, the common bean has migrated across the world – from the American continent to Europe, and then back again with European immigrants and explorers. By the time Spanish and Portuguese explorers discovered America, several varieties of beans were already flourishing. Upon discovering the New World, the early European traders and explorers also discovered new types of beans that they brought back to Europe and shared with other nations. By the early 18th century, beans had become a very popular crop in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Furthermore, when European explorers arrived in the New World, natives introduced them to Three Sisters – a companion planting technique. This technique involves growing beans, squash, and corn together – after decades of experimentation, the natives noticed that they were productive when planted together. Up to this point, Europeans were only familiar with fava beans, and when they set their sails back to Europe, they took along seeds from the crops the indigenous people had introduced to them. Through migration and trade, beans spread across Europe over the next few centuries.
The Return to America
After taking bean cultivars to Europe, European settlers renamed them and returned to North America.
For example, Hutterite Soup beans came to the United States from Russia via Austria in the late 19th century with a communal and pacifist Christian group called the Hutterites. They migrated there to avoid religious persecution and settled in the upper Midwest and Canada. Today’s Mayflower beans became a staple in North and South Carolina after coming over on the Mayflower in 1620. As for Bolita beans, it is not clear whether the Spaniards only picked them up while traveling north through Mexico or brought them from Spain. Flageolet beans come from France, Navy beans from Italy, and so on. Immigrants who brought seeds from Europe used to grow them and select plants that adapted to the local climate. Then, they passed down the seeds as family heirlooms, and some cultivars were picked up by seed companies for sale and development. One of the most popular heirloom beans is the Kentucky Wonder pole bean. Before being named Kentucky Wonder (1877), it was called Texas Pole and Old Homestead.
The dry edible bean commercial industry started in New York in the mid-1800s, during which time New York remained dominant in the industry. After New York, Michigan took the lead in the early 1900s, until North Dakota prevailed in the early 1990s, retaining its position as the largest producer of dry beans in the U.S. (32%).
People Love Dry Beans
Dry beans are dried for storage. Certain varieties of bean plants – such as Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Great Northern Beans, and Navy Beans – are grown expressly for drying. The bean plant produces its seeds in pods, and we refer to those seeds as – beans. To dry the beans, the bean pods are left to fully mature on the plant, or even longer, to let them dry out. Then, the pods are opened up, and the beans are extracted and dried even more (if necessary). The pods can be used as animal fodder or are discarded.
Dried beans are an efficient way to store up protein-high foods because they don’t require any energy to keep them stored (like freezing) or processing (like canning). And as for the health benefits, they are numerous; they are packed with protein and fiber, boost heart health, help manage diabetes, and assist in losing weight.
During the national emergency that came as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the bean industry experienced sudden growth because people began stockpiling long-lasting food products, including beans (both dried and canned). Beans are also versatile because they pair well with different meats, like lamb and chicken, can be mashed or kept intact, and go well with salads and soups.
Cost and Yield of Dried Beans
- Better value. A can of beans costs about $1.20 (on average) and yields 1-2 cups of beans. On the other hand, a pound of dried beans costs about $2 and yields up to 7 cups of cooked beans. It comes out to about 25 cents per cup of dried beans once cooked and 60 cents per cup of canned beans. In other words, if you go with dried beans, you will save money and create more servings.
- Controlling the sodium. Beans are packed with fiber, protein, minerals, and vitamins. However, canned beans can be high in sodium, which may affect the health of those with high blood pressure. With cooked dried beans, you can control the amount of salt you are taking in.
- Easy to cook and tastes delicious. The depth of flavor and texture of homemade dried beans is much better than canned beans (which may have a metallic taste or can be too mushy or salty). Dried beans are also easy and convenient to prepare, and they can be combined with different types of meat and vegetables.
Whether it’s red beans, blackeye beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, or mung beans, processing and conveying beans should be done gently. To gently move dried beans to their final destination (packaging), Cablevey offers a Dry Bean Conveyor system that is suitable for moving different types of food ingredients and batch products. Each of our dry bean conveyor systems is customizable and custom specified by Cablevey’s engineering department to ensure that every system is optimized to client needs.
Our conveyor technology enhances cleanliness, prevents external elements from contaminating the beans, and prevents material breakage. In other words, it decreases the risk of these costly problems that can negatively affect your bottom line (unprofitable equipment downtime, expensive maintenance interventions, and broken and wasted materials). Cablevey’s engineers can help meet any of your dry bean conveyor movement needs.