Know Your Beans!

Part of the legumes class of vegetables along with peas and lentils, beans are the most nutritious and versatile of foods. Low in fat and with 0% cholesterol, these little delights are high in folate, potassium and magnesium and contain beneficial fats and fibre. They are also a good source of protein – making them the ideal meat-substitute!

Our experienced team of vegetarian foodservice experts have created a brief guide, using their extensive knowledge of the products and market, to make it as easy as possible for you to find the perfect products for your menu.

Types of Beans and Other Legumes

Black Beans: a member of the kidney bean family, the Black Bean can be substituted for Red Kidney beans in any recipe and are well known for their frequent use in Caribbean cookery.

Butter (Lima) Beans: available in different colours and sizes large Butter Beans and small Lima Beans are excellent when cooked from frozen due to their creamy flavour and soft texture.

Black Eyed Peas: a staple food in Africa, Black Eyed Peas are named after the black spot on their hymen (not the hip-hop group) – quick to cook, their soft and fleshy texture offers a delicious savoury flavour.

Chick Peas: regularly used in Mediterranean cuisine, most notably for making hummous – the Chick Pea resembles a dry hazel nut, with an earthy flavour increasing the longer they are stored.

Red Kidney (Chilli) Beans: meaty in flavour, their rich colour enhances any salad and rice dish. They are available to buy dried, canned and ready to use.

Soya Beans: have many varieties, but the most common commercially are the edible vegetable Soya Bean.  They are the only legume that is a complete protein. Colours include yellow, grey, brown and black. They are usually sold dried but the very young pods can also be cooked.

Lentils: available in many varieties and colours, the red lentils are the starchy part of the whole lentil; Chinese and Canadian lentils are whitish green and the Indian varieties are a pink, reddish brown.

Cannellini Beans: grown in South America, they are interchangeable with Haricot beans, but are pink-beige in colour.

Mung Beans (Beansprouts): the smallest bean, they have a smooth taste and are usually green. They can be cooked without soaking as they don’t contain any enzymes, although soaking does reduce cooking time.

Haricot Beans: imported mostly from America, the Haricot Bean was introduced into Europe by the French for using in stews or ‘haricots’. Well-known as ‘Baked Beans’ these little delights are small, oval and greyish-white in colour.

Adzuki Beans: grown in China and Korea, they are one of the smallest bean varieties and their strong nutty flavour when cooked, makes them perfect when served mashed because of their very soft consistency.

Flageolet Beans: are young, tender Haricot Beans, hence their subtle pale green colour and delicate texture. Sweet when cooked, they should be eaten with grains to ease digestion.

Split Beans: the inner part of the pea, known as ‘dahl’ in Asia. No need to pre-soak – these beans are often used in soups as they disintegrate and soften when cooked.

Pinto Beans: grown in America, they have a speckled skin which disappears during cooking to become pinkish with a savoury flavour.

Borlotti Beans: with a similar colouring to Pinto Beans, Borlotti Beans are longer and thinner with a distinct kidney shape. The sweetest ones are palest in colour and are delicious cooked and served cold in salads.

Soaking and cooking advice:

  • Cooking time depends on method of cooking required and length of time needed for pre-soaking
  • Always completely cover beans with water when cooking, never adding any additional salt or acid (e.g. tomato juice, lemon juice or vinegar) as this inhibits the cooking process
  • Don’t use Bicarbonate of Soda when cooking beans as this kills the Vitamin B and spoils the flavour
  • Beans should always be cooked thoroughly to ensure you kill any harmful enzymes
  • Avoid using slow cookers to cook beans and pulses as they do not cook at a high enough temperature to kill harmful enzymes
  • Soak and rinse well to remove any small stones or shells
  • To aid digestion, eat two thirds grain to one third bean
  • Always soak Soya Beans in a cool environment (e.g. fridge) to prevent fermentation

"I have been using Vegetarian Express for over 15 years, not only are their products authentic and high quality but their range is extensive. The team are commodity purveyors specialising in ethnic produce right through to top regional UK specialities such as Cornish sea salt as well as consulting on innovative and new food solutions. Vegetarian Express is an essential arm of my supply chain."

Hayden Groves, Executive Chef,
BaxterStorey (National Chef of the Year 2013)