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Know your Nuña bean

Know your Nuña bean - Introduction

  • The nuña bean (pronounced noonya) is an Andean subspecies, Phaseolus vulgaris subsp. nunas, formerly Phaseolus vulgaris (Nuñas Group). 
  • The nuña bean has round, multicoloured seeds that resemble pigeon eggs. 
  • When cooked on high heat, the bean explodes, exposing the inner part, in the manner of popcorn and other puffed grains.
  • The nuña bean is a thick-skinned variety of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, and is grown in the high Andes at 2-3,000 metres above sea level. 
  • Found at pre-Inca archaeological sites, the bean is a popular staple in many areas of Ecuador and Peru.

Know your Nuña bean - Varieties

  • Over the centuries, at least 33 varieties of nuña bean have been developed. 
  • They come in several colours; especially popular are the grey and white speckled (nuña azul) and light red (nuña mani) varieties. 
  • There is also a white nuña bean found at Cajabamba called the pigeon's egg, or huevo de paloma, which is unrivalled in popping, taste and crunchiness.
  • There are numerous nuña varieties available in the highlands of Peru and in similar locales near the equator. 
  • Over the years, about 50 varieties have been collected and are held in various seed trusts around the world. Quite a few of these are held in restricted trusts that do not permit patenting of their germplasm.

Know your Nuña bean - Cultivation

  • Nuña beans are native pole beans from South America. 
  • They are day length sensitive requiring 12 hours of light per day to produce a crop. 
  • Nuña beans are unique in "popping" when heated either in a hot air popper or in a pan with a bit of oil. 
  • They pop vigorously similar to popcorn but with only 2x to 4x expansion in volume compared to popcorn with 25x to 40x expansion.
  • They are not adapted to temperate climes. The bean is susceptible to both frost and high temperatures. 
  • It needs abundant moisture, short day lengths and approximately 200 days to crop. 
  • Because of these restrictive cultural requirements, production of nuña beans outside highland tropical areas has not been conducted successfully on a large scale.

Know your Nuña bean - Cuisine

  • The ease with which the beans are cooked may, in part, explain their popularity. At the altitudes where nuña beans are cultivated, water boils at a temperature closer to 90 than 100 degrees Celcius. This makes cooking with boiling water a slow process. 
  • Nuña beans, however, are not boiled; they are heated in a thin layer of oil for 2-4 minutes, which causes the bean to "pop." 
  • The exploded beans have a flavour reminiscent of peanuts and a consistency much like popcorn.