We’re clearly filled with beans. In the U.S. alone, we have about 8 lbs of beans annually, per capita, and the current prevalence of Mexican cuisine plays no small part. 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 leading producers are Myanmar (Burma), India and Brazil. While once considered a poor food, beans are stored in high favor globally.
Domesticated beans in the Americas were located in Guitarrero Cave, an archaeological site in Peru, dating back to around the second millennium BC. They are dried and transported on boats, they lasted through a long cold winter, they are soaked or boiled readily and they stuffed 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 major source of food to the early Israelites and are still eaten primarily in Mediterranean countries. Old Testament civilizations like Jericho and Babylon consumed them daily. The Aztecs and Incas grew and ate beans as a major portion of their diet. They were also employed as counting tools and cash, and seemed symbolically at weddings. Asia has eaten them for centuries, and Egyptians included them in tombs to insure voyage to the afterlife.
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 supposedly so fond of Italy’s cannellini beans, she smuggled a few 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 needed legumes, her French chefs jumped)
During the 9th century, Charlemagne (King Charles I) revived productivity to European lands which had been ravaged by war, ordering chickpeas to become a major crop which helped stop starvation in his vast kingdom,
Early American colonists cultivated multiple varieties. They have been used in soups and stews and may be dried to help feed large families throughout the winter, when food was scarce. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed many different types of beans out of his abundant garden, experimenting with various 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 man named Henry J Heinz put canned baked beans on the map, both in the U.S. and the U.K. Today, Heinz baked beans is among the most recognizable and popular canned foods on the grocery shelves. Surprisingly, the top bean eaters in the world are the U.K. nations. Worldwide, a whopping 2 million people consume baked beans daily.
What’s more American than franks and beans? Or chili? Or navy bean soup? So cook some up and enjoy.