Bean, the edible seed or pod of various plants of the pea family. One of the most nourishing of all vegetables, the bean is a source of proteins and carbohydrates. (Proteins derived from beans are incomplete—that is, they do not contain all the amino acids that the body needs. For this reason, they are often eaten with rice, corn, or cheese, which contain the amino acids that are absent in beans.) Beans are also sources of fiber, certain B vitamins (thiamine, ribo-flavin, and niacin), zinc, iron, and magnesium. Bean plants are also raised to enrich soil; the plants take nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil through the action of bacteria in the roots.

Some beans, such as navy and lima beans, are fully grown seeds. Others, such as string beans, are green pods eaten with the immature seeds still inside. The seeds of many plants not related to true beans are called beans. Examples are the castor, catalpa, coffee, and vanilla beans. This article is concerned with true beans.

Bean plants may be either short bushes or vines. Bush beans can be harvested by machines, but the vine crop must be picked by hand. Most of the crop consists of bush plants raised for canners and food processors. Vine beans, which grow on poles eight to nine feet (2.4 to 2.7 m) tall, are raised to supply fresh vegetable markets. They can be cultivated profitably only in places where the growing season is long enough to permit repeated picking.

Common, or Kidney, Beans

Common, or kidney, beans include most of the important commercial varieties grown in the United States and Canada. These crops must be planted annually. There are two important types of common beans—snap beans and dry, or field, beans. Snap beans are those varieties of common beans grown for their young pods. Dry beans are those varieties grown for their mature seeds.

Snap Beans

include green beans and wax, or yellow, beans. Snap beans are often called string beans, referring to a string of fibers that runs along one edge. In some varieties, the string is tough and difficult to chew; it is normally removed before cooking. In other varieties, sometimes called stringless beans, the string is so tender that it is not noticeable. Stringless beans are the result of selective breeding.

Snap beans grow on both bushes and vines. Bush types are more widely grown because of their suitability for machine harvesting. Leading producers are Wisconsin, Oregon, and New York.

Snap beans are planted in early spring as soon as the ground is warm. To insure a steady supply for the fresh market, separate plantings are made 10 to 24 days apart. Within 60 days after seeding, the first bush beans are ready to be picked. Pole beans require a few days longer.

Dry, or Field, Beans

include the pinto beans, red kidney beans, pea beans, and marrow beans. Pinto beans are pinkish beans often mixed with rice and eaten in stews. Red kidney beans are the large beans used in salads and chili. Pea beans include the navy bean and similar varieties that are used in pork and beans, Boston baked beans, and bean soup. Marrow beans, which are large and white, are sometimes substituted for pea beans.

Dry beans are usually produced on large farms. Almost all of the commercial crop comes from bush plants. Harvesting takes place as soon as most of the pods turn yellow. The entire plants are pulled up by mechanical harvesters and the beans are later separated by a machine similar to a grain thresher. Leading producers are Michigan, California, Idaho, Nebraska, Colorado, and North Dakota.

Other Beans
Lima Beans, or Butter Beans,

are large, flat beans, containing higher proportions of fat than other beans. Limas are grown only for their seeds, which may be eaten green or after they have been dried. There are two types of lima bean plants—bush and pole. Popular varieties of bush limas include Fordhook and Improved Bush. Baby limas are special types of bush limas that produce relatively small seeds. Pole limas grow as vines that must be supported by poles. Popular varieties include King of the Garden and Prizetaker. Leading producers are California, Delaware, Wisconsin, and Maryland.

Broad, or Fava, Beans

have been cultivated in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America since ancient times as food for humans and animals. Broad beans are seldom raised in the United States because the weather during their growing season is generally too warm for them to thrive.

Hyacinth, or Lablab, Beans

are grown for food in Europe and the tropics and as an ornamental in the United States.

Asparagus Beans

are tropical beans with pods one to three feet (30 to 90 cm) long. The related cowpea, or black-eyed pea, is widely grown in the southern part of the United States.


Beans belong to the family Leguminosae. Common, or kidney, beans are Phaseolus vulgaris; lima, P. limensis or P. lunatus; soybean, Glycine max; broad, Vicia faba; hyacinth, Dolichos lablab; asparagus, Vigna sesquipedalis; cowpea, V. unguiculata.