Beans: Choosing the Right Type

January 18, 2013

Beans are healthy and delicious, here's a rundown of the different varieties; part two to last week's rundown on the health benefits of beans

Besides being delicious and versatile, virtually all types of beans are nutrition powerhouses. Here is part two to last week’s rundown on the health benefits of beans. Just a reminder beans are rich in protein, folate, magnesium, and protective phytochemicals. Darker-colored beans are richest in heart-healthy, cancer-protective antioxidants, but all beans are beneficial to those looking to improve the nutrient density of their meals. Most beans are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and slowly digested carbohydrates, with a gentler, even beneficial, effect on blood-sugar.

Beans are inexpensive, and offer at least six cups of cooked beans for six to twelve servings. Most packages are for a pound, but some are 12 ounces, so check the label if quantity is essential to your recipe.

Kidney beans are large, almost 3/4 inch, and have a definitive kidney shape and are nearly maroon in color. These are the beans to use in chili because they're hearty, and take well to spices. Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Light Red Kidney beans are similar to their darker relative and are the bean for the Southern dish, red beans and rice. Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Pinto (Pink) is the staple of Mexican cooking, and is a pinkish-mauve color that turns brownish when cooked. Some variations are mottled. Pintos look like brown medium ovals. Pintos are favored for whole or refried beans in burritos and tacos. Cooking times vary from 1 to 2 hours depending on size. 

Special note on Refried Beans or frijoles refritos: 
Refried beans begin with onions and garlic sautéed in lard or oil, to which spoons full of cooked pinto beans are added, mashed, and cooked until they are thicker than mashed potatoes. Sometimes a little broth or water is added. The intriguing thing is that they are not re-fried at all. One theory for this misnomer is that in Mexican Spanish, "re" is a way to emphasize doneness, such as these beans are well-done or cooked thoroughly. They are not, however, fried two times.

Cranberry or Roman Beans are a favorite in Italian recipes. These medium mottled tan and red beans are oval in shape, take to spices well, and are very tender with modest cooking time 45 to 60 minutes. 

Garbanzo or Chickpeas, popular in Middle East cuisine, are the basis for hummus, the bean spread spiked with garlic and olive oil. They're an imperfect round beige color and give both a nut-like flavor and firm texture. Use whole in soups or salads or grind up cooked beans for hummus or for frying for falafel balls. Modest cooking time of 30 minutes to 1 hour. Skins should be discarded because they're difficult to digest.

Black-eyed Peas are the ones to bring luck into your life on New Year's Day as the Southern custom asserts. These beans are white with black dots and have a light very smooth texture. Cooking time: 30 to 60 minutes.

Black or Turtle Beans are medium sized black oval beans, that are popular in Caribbean cooking and adapt well to South and Central American dishes for which a heartier, earthier, smoother bean is desired. Cooking time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Navy beans are not navy blue as one would expect, but small white ovals that add a mild flavor to soups and salads and can be used in baked beans. They belong to the haricot bean (white bean) family, and cook in 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Great Northern beans are another relative of the haricot bean (white bean) family but larger than navy beans yet offer a similar mild white bean taste that is great in soups and stews and in the classic French dish, cassoulet. Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes. 

Limas are plump, slightly curved beans that are pale colored and come in two sizes: small baby lima and white with a creamy smooth texture or slightly larger butter beans that are pale green to white. Both are delicious alone or added to soups or casseroles. Cooking time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.