Since the earliest day of history, dry beans have played an important role in our food supply. Since bean preservation was simply a matter of drying, dried beans and peas, also called legumes or pulses in other parts of the world, were readily available year-round.
Beans originated in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. Beans were found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs and they were still viable after centuries of storage. It is thought that the first beans were brought to America from Europe by nomadic tribes crossing the Bering Strait into Alaska. Large and baby lima beans originated in Peru, thus the name “lima”. They were brought to California on a merchant ship around 1900.
Legumes are Budget Stretchers, and the least expensive source of protein
in the human diet, making them a vital food source worldwide. In the US, more and
more people are recognizing that this "poor
man's meat" is a nutritious, low-cost
alternative to higher priced meats and fast food.
No matter how food prices and inflation have varied, dry beans remain at or near the top of the USDA's list of foods providing the most protein per dollar. A one-pound package of dry beans contains about 90% solids. In contrast, traditional protein sources like meats, contain 60-70 percent moisture.
Storehouses of nutrients, dry beans are valued their high protein, but they are also high in fiber and many important vitamins and minerals. When combined with small supplements of grain, rice or corn, beans can supply all essential amino acids, the building blocks of proteins we need. Beans are low in fat and sodium and contain no cholesterol or sugar. With their high carbohydrate content, they digest slowly, satisfying hunger and energy needs for long periods of time.
Today, we are looking for meals that are flavorful and delicious, and there are several reasons why beans are important for the active lifestyles of adults and children. Beans are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates for energy, as well as protein for growth and repair of body tissue. Many health organizations, including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association recognize beans as a healthy and versatile way to meet nutritional guidelines because of these attributes:
Beans are appearing on the menu more often because the are so versitile in side dishes, salads, dips
and traditional comfort foods like soups, chili, stews and casseroles. No matter what the dish or specialité, beans can add taste, variety and value in planning your menu. People are choosing meatless meal options for a variety of reasons and every American Bean Lovers enjoyed eating nearly eight pounds of beans in 2007, up from five pounds per person in 1987.