The French word for bean, haricot, comes from the Aztec ayacotl.

Archeological digs have shown that beans were being grown in Peru and Mexico around 10,000 years ago.

They spread throughout the Americas following Amerindian migrations.

They were taken to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries by Spanish explorers. They were “discovered” several times: by Christopher Columbus in Cuba, by Cabeza de Vaca in Florida, and by Jacques Cartier at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River.

Their cultivation subsequently expanded to all of Europe, Africa, and Asia with explorations and conquests. This is because the bean is a nourishing and practical food produced by a plant that is easy to grow. An incredible number of bean varieties were created after the 17th century.

Beans for shelling

These are harvested June through September in Europe, and are found fresh and semi-dry.

The pods should be brittle, tightly closed, and without blemishes. The beans should be covered with a fine skin.

Dried beans

The producers generally leave the pods to dry on the plant before picking. Then they are either dried out completely under the sun or in drying ovens. They are then shelled and the beans are sorted, cleaned, calibrated, and packed.

Dried beans are sold throughout the year. The beans should be smooth, evenly colored, and free from blemishes. If they are wrinkled, it means they were dried too quickly.

Certain varieties of beans can be found frozen.

They can also be found ready to eat or uncooked, in cans or jars.

Fresh beans are cooked as they are after shelling, while dry beans need to be soaked for 12 hours (in cold water to prevent fermentation). A first cooking (blanching) in water can take the place of soaking.

Water from soaking or blanching should be discarded, as it contains substances that are difficult to digest.

Beans are cooked in water. They should only be salted three-quarters of the way through the cooking process, otherwise their skins will remain hard.

They are suitable for cold or hot soups, salads, and as garnishes. They accompany meat and sausage dishes in a large number of typical dishes from different regions and countries:

cassoulet in France, fabada asturiana in the north of Spain, feijoada in Portugal and Brazil, fèves au lardin Québec (where the bean is known as "fève"), and chili con carne in the southern United States, among others.

Fresh or semi-dry beans for shelling can be kept in a refrigerator in their pods for one week. They can also be kept in a dry place because they go moldy quickly.

Dry beans can be kept for one year in a cool, dry place. The expiration date will be marked in the package.

Beans are high in complex carbohydrates that release energy slowly.

They are also high in fiber; this is both an advantage and a drawback. On the one hand, fiber helps with transit through the intestines. However, a great excess of fiber can lead to discomfort.

The flatulence often occurring after eating beans comes from this excess in fiber, and also from stachyose and raffinose, two carbohydrates found in legumes that are difficult to absorb and lead to fermenting in the colon. It is likewise produced by the sulfur that also remains in large amounts in badly prepared cooked beans, without the pre-blanching that removes most of it. 

Beans are low in B-group vitamins (except folates), and have no vitamin C, but they are high in minerals, particularly the magnesium that is often lacking in diets.

They contain no fat, only carbohydrates and plant protein, and are low in calories.

There are large families of beans, distinguished by the color of their seeds: white, green, red, or black.

Within these are thousands of varieties, including some that are more widely grown and even protected.

  • White beans

In France:

Coco de Paimpol: large beans with purple marbling (AOC and PDO).

Haricot tarbais (Alaric): large beans that are in great demand for their distinctive flavor (PGI and Label Rouge).

Lingot: large, elongated, and very white; the most widely grown. Among these are the Lingot du Pays Ariégeois or Coco de Pamiers, and the Mojette de Vendée and the Lingot du Nord varieties with Label Rouge status.

Soissons: Large and flat, these beans are typical in the northern regions of France, but are in decline.

Michelet, Mistral: small and elongated beans from Provence. 

Coco nain blanc précoce: small round beans.

Cocos roses: medium size or small, and white with pink veins, these beans are grown in southeastern France and Italy.

In Italy:

Fagiolo di Lamon della Vallata Bellunese, Fagiolo di Sarconi and Fagiolo di Sorana all have PDO status.

Fagiolo bianco di Pigna (beans from the Val di Nervia):  small and very white, particularly flavorsome, these beans are grown in very limited quantities and are in the course of obtaining PGI status.

In Spain:

 Pochas: large beans, grown in the La Rioja and Navarre regions.

Faba asturiana:  creamy white, these beans have a kidney shape (PDO and PGI).

Elsewhere:

Soissons beans are also grown in Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Poland. Lingot beans are found in Argentina, China, and Madagascar. Great Northern and pea beans are grown in the United States, as are black-eyed beans or peas, which are also grown in Peru, Turkey, and Madagascar. Scarlet runner beans, medium size white beans speckled with red, are grown in Europe and the Americas.

  • Green beans

Flageolet: small kidney-shape beans, these are a French specialty, grown mostly in Brittany and the Nord regions. They are harvested before becoming fully ripe.

Mung beans: small and green, but also yellow or brown, these are typical of the West Indies. 

Lima beans: large and green, sometimes found with red stripes, these beans are grown in Central America and the Caribbean.

  • Red beans

Many varieties exist that produce medium or large thick-skinned beans, ranging in color from light to dark red. The United States, Canada, China, and Madagascar are the leading producers.

Among them is the kidney bean, which is large and kidney-shaped, grown in France, the United States, and Africa.

  • Black beans

Medium size, slightly hollow beans shaped like kidneys, black beans are not very common in Europe. They are very popular in the Americas, particularly in South America, and also in Asia.