Green beans, also known as snap beans, are truly a vegetable to look forward to. Harvested all year long throughout the US, they’re versatile, fun to eat, and add a pop of color to your plate.
Anatomy of a Green Bean
If you grew up in America, you’ve probably eaten your fair share of green bean side dishes. From green bean casserole at Thanksgiving to the classic three-bean salad at summer barbecues, green beans are a central vegetable in the American diet.
But have you ever wondered what a green bean really is? Why does it hide those slippery little seeds inside its zipped-up outer jacket? In fact, green beans are technically legumes. They’re in the same family as beans, chickpeas, and even peanuts.
The cute little seeds hiding inside each bean are just that–seeds for future bean generations. They’re just as edible as the outer casing, making green beans a member of the edible pod bean family.
Green Bean Varieties
There are over 130 different varieties of snap beans. The most common is green, medium-sized, and emits a satisfying “snap” when you bend it in half. Snap beans are descended from string beans, which have a fibrous string running down the seam of the bean. This string is typically removed before eating. But with more common stringless snap beans, there’s no need for that extra step.
Other snap bean varieties have yellow, purple, red, and even striped pods. They vary in size, shape, and flavor. For example, haricot verts are smaller, thinner, and more delicate green beans found in France.
Where did Green Beans Come From?
Although green beans are now the most popular pod bean sold in the United States, they actually originated in South America. Green beans are native to Peru, and Native Americans brought them north through Central America.
Green beans were the central part of a vital Native American growing practice known as Three Sisters Farming. The three sisters, beans, squash, and corn, are excellent growing companions. In a mutualistic relationship, Corn offers a natural trellis for bean tendrils to grow up. Squash then surrounds the beans and corn on the ground, preventing weeds and blocking direct sunlight.
All three crops produce beneficial nutrients for the soil that in turn feed their sisters. What’s more, when eaten together, the three sisters contain all nine essential amino acids.
Spanish colonists in the 1500’s saw how well the beans grew in the Americas. They shared the beans, along with Three Sister Farming, with the Old World. Quickly, the sweet beans spread throughout the trading world.
Health Benefits of Green Beans
Green beans are quite a healthy green veggie. They’re naturally low in calories, with just 44 per cup. Plus, the beans are packed with vitamins C, K, and A, as well as important minerals like calcium, potassium, and iron.
Being a crunchy green veggie, green beans are also full of fiber, an important part of any diet.
How To Select The Best Green Beans
Look for beans that are bright green, firm, and make a satisfying “snap”.
How to Store Fresh Green Beans
The best way to keep your green beans fresh is to store them in a breathable bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge. They like a cool, dark, dry environment.
However, if you end up with more beans than you can handle, you can easily freeze fresh green beans. To do so, arrange the beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for about an hour. Then transfer the frozen beans to an airtight container and keep them on hand to add to soups, stews, and casseroles throughout the year.
You can also preserve summery green beans by canning. Dilly beans are a classic American preserve of pickled green beans with plenty of fresh dill.
How to Cook with Green Beans
Green beans are celebrated for their snappy bite, beautiful color, and versatile flavor. You can enjoy them raw, steamed, stir-fried, or even deep-fried.
Some of our favorite ways to enjoy green beans include quick and easy side dishes like: