The history of the green bean is mixed with that of the bean, the term that describes the fruit, pod, and seeds.
After the Conquistadors took them back to Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, and their rapid expansion to most places, only the seeds were consumed for a long time.
So when did the whole pod start to be eaten? To tell you the truth, nobody knows.
In the 17th century, there began to be multiple crossings, particularly in Italy, in order to obtain new varieties. String beans were developed – like shelled beans, the pod is covered with a thin membrane and cellulose strings develop on the sides – and stringless beans, whose pods have no membrane and which are edible even when the seeds are fully developed. Subsequently, both types were picked before ripening completely, giving the stringless green beans that we know.
But the green bean season was short and it never had a major role in people's diets. Popularity of the green bean began to develop in the 19th century with the setting up of canneries, and it grew in the middle of the 20th century when freezers became part of people's homes.
China, Indonesia, Turkey, India, Egypt, Spain, Italy, Morocco, and Belgium are the leading producers of green beans.
All these green beans should be very firm, evenly colored, and without blemishes or traces of moisture. They should break in two cleanly with a snap. The presence of a string can be seen when broken.
Bean pods picked when they are old contain tender beans, but also strings.
Fresh, canned, frozen.
Green beans are classified in France according to the width of the pods.
Extra-fine: to 6.5 mm; Very fine: 6.5–8 mm; Fine: 8–9.5 mm; Semi-fine: 9.5–11 mm; Medium: over 11 mm.
These rules are valid for both fresh, canned, and frozen green beans.
Fresh green beans have to be topped and tailed before use. They are cooked in salted boiling water, and quickly, because as Escoffier puts it in the Guide Culinaire: "they are better when they feel a little firm to the teeth, but without exaggerating". He also advises not to refresh them...
Carême served them à la Française or à l'Anglaise (simply boiled). In his Grand Dictionnaire de la Cuisine, Alexandre Dumas offered several recipes: au blanc (sautéed in butter, thickened with cream and egg), au roux (cooked for one hour with ham, butter, herbs, and stock), à la bretonne (with browned onions and stock), en salade (with anchovy fillets, onions cooked over coals, and beets).
As for Escoffier, in his Guide Culinaire he serves them in a panaché with flageolet beans, or à la Tourangelle, with béchamel sauce, or pureed combined with a creamy puree of flageolet beans. But fortunately, in the chapter on hors d'oeuvres, he also serves them simply seasoned with oil, vinegar, and fine herbs. Or simply sautéed in butter as the accompaniment for harengs au haricots verts.
Green beans can be kept in the refrigerator or cool room at 4ºC for up to 3 hours, protected from moisture because they rot easily.
Frozen green beans should be kept in the freezer without breaking the cold chain.
Why can the green bean only be eaten cooked? Because their carbohydrates comprise 50% starch, a complex carbohydrate that can only be assimilated after heating.
These vegetables are packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals.
They also contain antioxidant carotenoids and a lot of fiber, of which pectin gives them their particular soft consistency.
There are two main varieties, of which there are many sub-varieties. The most common are:
- String (French filet) beans:
Morgane, Garonel, Finbel, César, Fin de Bagnols, etc.: long, green pod, stringless.
June through October.
Triomphe de Farcy: green pod with purple markings. June through October.
Beurre de Rocquencourt, dwarf wax beans: long yellow pod. June through October.
- Mangetout (snow peas):
Fine green bean: short green pod. July through September.
Green bean, dwarf or pole beans: large green pod. June through October in France. November through June in Spain and Morocco.
Purple Teepee: purple pods that turn green when cooked.
Wax bean: large long and yellow pod. July through September.
Flat bean: large pod that is short and flat. July through September in France, October through July in Spain.