Whether you call them fava beans (USA) or broad beans (UK) these large, flattened light green pods are usually eaten shelled for their delicious flavor and considerable health benefits. Evidence has been found of their cultivation since at least 4500 BC while today they are grown all over the world with China being top of the list.
Although usually just the shelled beans are eaten, if harvested when still really young, the pods may also be eaten as well as the tips of the foliage as greens. Easy to identify, broad beans have stems that are square rather than the usual round of most plants.
Planting in the vegetable garden
In sheltered, southern gardens in the northern hemisphere with well-drained soils, broad beans can be sown directly into the soil in early November or February for harvests as early as May and throughout the summer.. in cold areas, or when winters are severe, plants will need fleece or cloche protection.
Those health benefits
- Fava beans are very high in protein and energy (in the same way as other beans and lentils) along with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and plant-sterols.
- The beans are a very rich source of dietary fiber acting as a bulk laxative - so necessary to keep you regular and avoid the constipation that can so easily lead to hemorrhoids and fissures. Dietary fiber is also known to reduce blood cholesterol levels by decreasing re-absorption of cholesterol binding bile acids in the colon.
- Broad beans are rich in phyto-nutrients such as isoflavone (to protect against breast cancer) and natural cholesterol-lowering plant-sterols.
- Fava beans are good brain food, helping prevent Parkinson's disease and dopamine responsive dystonia disorders.
- Fresh fava beans are an excellent source of folates. Folate along with vitamin B-12 is one of the essential components of DNA synthesis and cell division. For mums-to-be, adequate folate in the diet around conception and during pregnancy may help prevent neural-tube defects in the newborn baby.
- Fava beans also contain good amounts of vitamin-B6, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.
- A good source of minerals like iron, copper, manganese, calcium and magnesium, fava beans are one of the highest plant sources of potassium.
Buying, storing, preparing and cooking
If you are able to grow your own (and your crop is big enough), you can easily home freeze the excess. In the markets, fresh fava beans are available from March until June. If you are buying, look for fresh, just mature, green color beans. Store unshelled beans in a perforated plastic bag inside the refrigerator for up to a week or so. But obviously, it is best to use them soon after harvest for optimum benefits and their rich natural flavor.
Gently cooked for a few minutes in boiling water, tender beans will melt in the mouth or they can even be mashed with butter, seasoning and some parsley. They make a delicious addition in stews, soups and stir-fries.
There are a couple of words of warning
Favism is the name given to a genetic condition affecting just a very small portion of the population with G-6PD (Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase). This is an enzyme deficiency compromising oxygen-carrying capacity in their blood, triggered by eating fava beans or its products, as well as by some drugs and infections.
In addition, the beans contain oxalic acid (a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables) that may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. Those with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised against eating vegetables belonging to the Brassica and Fabaceae family and drinking plenty of water can help maintain normal urine output to minimize the risk of stones.