Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
September 28, 2023
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Mangia Bene

 The green bean originates in Central and South America. The green bean was domesticated in ancient times, but researchers can't say exactly where, although seeds of cultivated forms were found in deposits from Callejon de Huaylas, Peru with a radiocarbon dating of 7680 B.P. and from 7000 B.P. in Tehuacan, Mexico, although atomic mass spectrometry dating contests this dates by measuring the age as only 2, 285 +/- 60 B.P.

The green bean was introduced to the Mediterranean upon the return of Columbus from his second voyage to the New World in 1493. In Columbus's diary from November 4, 1492 he describes lands in Cuba planted with faxones and fabas "different than ours." Later he encounterd fexoes and habas that were different than the ones he knew from Spain. Faxones was probably the cowpea and fabas and habas was the fava bean. The beans Columbus found were undoubtedly what is now designated Phaseolus vulgaris .

The earliest depiction of a New World bean in Europe is thought to be the woodcut in the herbal published by Leonhart Fuchs in 1543. The bean spread into the eastern Mediterranean and by the seventeenth century was cultivated everywhere in Italy, Greece, and Turkey. In a 1988 study of the phaseolin structure of the common bean researchers traced the beans now grown in the western Mediterranean as ones originating in the Andes.

The phaselus and phaseolus beans mentioned in the Roman authors Virgil and Columella are now believed to be another leguminous plant in the genus Dolichus , that is, the hyacinth bean. Phaseolus is a New World plant and all the so-called phaseolus from the Old World have been re-classified as vigna .

There are four major cultivated species: P. vulgaris , P. coccineus (scarlet runner bean), P. lunatus (lima or sieva bean), P. acutifolius var. latifolius (tepary bean). A fifth species, P. polyanthus , is cultivated in the New World, but it is not found in Mediterranean cultivation. There are today many cultivars of green beans, more than 500, with variations in pod, texture, or seed color, for example the yellow wax beans.

Seed Savers Exchange, an international network of seed collections based in Iowa, has over 4,000 varieties of beans in their collection and still counting. The best known dry or horticultural beans, such as kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and navy beans, are members of this species. So too are most of the familiar bean varieties such as great northern, flageolet, haricots vert, cannellini , borlotti , Jacob's Cattle, Kentucky wonder, Blue Lake, and all the rest.

Horticultural beans are a class of beans grown specifically to be shelled when their seeds are mature. These varieties of horticultural beans usually have maroon-streaked pods and their seeds are two colored. Commercially, beans are either shell beans or pod beans. The pod beans are sold and eaten while still unripe and are called string beans, green beans, snap beans, or pole beans. String beans have over the years been cultivated so that they will be "stringless," that is, so they do not have the fibrous inedible string along the pod seam. Shell beans are either low bushy plants that don't need support or climbing (pole) beans which do require support.