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Know your Broad bean

Know your Broad Beans - Introduction

Broad bean in flower
  • The Broad bean, Vicia faba, Fava Bean, Field Bean, Bell Bean or Tic Bean is a species of bean (Fabaceae) native to north Africa and south-west Asia, and extensively cultivated elsewhere. 
  • A variety is provisionally recognized:
    • Vicia faba var. equina Pers. – Horse Bean
  • Although usually classified in the same genus Vicia as the vetches, which include peas and alfalfa, some botanists treat it in a separate monotypic genus Faba.

Know your Broad Beans - Botany

  • The broad bean is a rigid, erect plant 0.5-1.7 m tall, with stout stems with a square cross-section. 
  • The leaves are 10-25 cm long, pinnate with 2-7 leaflets, and of a distinct glaucous grey-green color; unlike most other vetches, the leaves do not have tendrils for climbing over other vegetation. 
  • The flowers are 1-2.5 cm long, with five petals, the standard petal white, the wing petals white with a black spot (true black, not deep purple or blue as is the case in many "black" colourings), and the keel petals white. Crimson flowered broad beans also exist, which were recently saved from extinction. 
  • The fruit is a broad leathery pod, green maturing to blackish-brown, with a densely downy surface; in the wild species, the pods are 5-10 cm long and 1 cm diameter, but many modern cultivars developed for food use have pods 15-25 cm long and 2-3 cm thick. 
  • Each pod contains 3-8 seeds; round to oval and 5-10 mm diameter in the wild plant, usually flattened and up to 20-25 mm long, 15 mm broad and 5-10 mm thick in food cultivars. 
  • Vicia faba has a diploid (2n) chromosome number of 12, meaning that each cell in the plant has 12 chromosomes (6 homologous pairs). Five pairs are acrocentric chromosomes and 1 pair is metacentric.

Know your Broad Beans - Origins

  • Broad beans have a long tradition of cultivation in Old World agriculture, being among the most ancient plants in cultivation and also among the easiest to grow. 
  • It is believed that along with lentils, peas, and chickpeas, they became part of the eastern Mediterranean diet in around 6000 BC or earlier. 
  • They are still often grown as a cover crop to prevent erosion, because they can over-winter and because as a legume, they fix nitrogen in the soil. 
  • These commonly cultivated plants can be attacked by fungal diseases, such as rust (Uromyces viciae-fabae) and chocolate spot (Botrytis fabae).

Know your Broad Beans - Cultivation

  • The broad bean has high hardiness cvs. This means it can withstand rough climates, and in this case, cold ones. Unlike most legumes, the broad bean can be grown in soils with high salinity. However, it does prefer to grow in rich loams.
  • In much of the Anglophone world, the name broad bean is used for the large-seeded cultivars grown for human food, while horse bean and field bean refer to cultivars with smaller, harder seeds (more like the wild species) used for animal feed, though their stronger flavour is preferred in some human food recipes, such as falafel
  • The term fava bean (from the Italian fava, meaning "broad bean") is sometimes used in English speaking countries, however the term broad bean is the most common name in the UK.

Know your Broad Beans - Distribution

  • The broad bean can be fried, causing the skin to split open, and then salted and/or spiced to produce a savoury crunchy snack. These are popular in China, Colombia, Peru (habas saladas), Mexico (habas con chile) and in Thailand (where their name means "open-mouth nut").
  • Broad bean purée with wild chicory is a typical Puglian dish.
  • In the Sichuan cuisine of China, broad beans are combined with soya beans and chili peppers to produce a spicy fermented bean paste calleddoubanjiang.
  • In most Arab countries, the broad bean is used for a breakfast dish called ful medames.
  • Broad beans are common in Latin American cuisines as well. In central Mexico, mashed broad beans are a common filling for many corn flour-based antojito snacks such as tlacoyos
  • In Colombia they are most often used whole in vegetable soups. 
  • Dried and salted broad beans are a popular snack in many Latin countries.
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