There are two main types of fresh beans. Green beans, snap beans, and string beans are the prime examples of edible-pod beans, which are eaten in their entirety, pod and all. Shell beans are beans allowed to grow larger so they have bigger seeds. Edamame, lima beans, and fava beans are examples of shell beans.
Here are some examples of the types of fresh edible-pod beans you may find in the supermarket or farmer’s market.
- Snap beans (also known as string beans and wax beans): A favorite of cooks as well as home gardeners, snap beans have tender, crisp pods that snap when bent. You snap the ends off before cooking. The most familiar types are green beans and yellow wax beans. These are identical in texture, though yellow wax beans are lower in beta carotene. Both are actually immature kidney beans, and their pods can be flat, oval, or rounded, depending on the variety. These beans were formerly known as string beans because the varieties developed in the 19th century had a long, tough string down the seam of the pod that had to be stripped off. However, the string has been bred out of most snap bean varieties. Occasionally, though, a bean does need stringing.
- Dragon tongue beans: Dragon tongue beans are light yellow beans that are streaked with purple. They are shaped like longer, wider, flatter green beans.
- Haricots verts: These French-style green beans are much thinner, longer, and more tender than American green beans. They’re also more expensive because they must be harvested young, before they lose their tenderness.
- Italian green beans: Also called Romano beans, these are distinguished by broad, flat, bright green pods. Like snap beans, these beans also come in a yellow (wax bean) version.
- Purple wax beans: These small wax beans have a dark purple pod that turns green when cooked.
- Scarlet runner beans: The pods are broad, flat, and green. The seeds are scarlet. These beans also have an edible blossom that may be red or white.
- Winged beans (Goa beans, asparagus pea): Winged beans are grown abundantly in Southeast Asia. All parts of the plant are edible, not just the pod and inner seed. The shoots, flowers, root, and leaves can all be eaten raw or cooked, and all have high protein content: 10 percent to 20 percent. Typically six to nine inches long, the pods have a distinctive shape, with four sides that flare into serrated ridges or “wings.” The pods are green and shades of purple-red. The beans within are starchier than green bean seeds.
- Yardlong beans (Chinese long beans, asparagus beans): Originally from Asia, these mild-tasting, thin, green beans can measure up to 18 inches long. When young and tender, long beans are good for stir-frying. They can also be eaten raw in salads or as crudités.
Shell beans are mature seeds (beans) whose pods are usually no longer edible, but the beans are still fresh and have not been dried. Though shell beans can be used interchangeably with dried beans in many recipes, keep in mind that shell beans keep the same bulk whether they’re raw or cooked, whereas dried beans swell up, so you’ll need to adjust recipes accordingly.
- Cannellini: This is the fresh form of the dried white kidney bean traditionally used in minestrone.
- Cranberry beans: These beans—so named because of the red markings on both the white pods and the beans themselves—are occasionally available fresh. They are usually served as a side dish or added to soups and stews.
- Edamame (fresh soybeans): Edamame are a specialty soybean grown specifically to be picked and used in their immature stage so that they can be eaten fresh. Distinguished by their small, fuzzy, dark green pods, fresh soybeans have a mild flavor, along with a higher protein and fat content than other beans. The fat is unsaturated. The protein is complete—meaning that it provides the essential amino acids needed in one’s diet—so soybeans are equivalent to meat in terms of protein quality.
- Fava beans (broad beans): Fava beans have been a staple food in many countries for thousands of years. In fact, they were the only beans eaten in Europe before the green bean was introduced there in the 1400s. Fava bean pods can grow up to 18 inches, and are about an inch wide. Young favas can be shelled and eaten raw or cooked, but more mature favas must be both shelled and skinned (the skins around each individual bean are much too tough to eat). (Note: fava beans and some other beans can cause a serious adverse reaction in people with an inherited enzyme deficiency called G6PD deficiency.)
- Lima beans: The most common shell bean in the United States, limas are named after the capital of Peru, where they have been cultivated since ancient times. Nearly all of the U.S. domestic crop is marketed frozen or canned, but you can sometimes find fresh limas sold in their pods. Dried lima beans come in two varieties: the largerFordhooks(also called butter beans) andbaby limas, which are not really young lima beans but are a smaller, milder-tastingvariety.
Fresh shell beans are generally available for only a few months of the year. Lima beans, cranberry beans, and edamame are typically in markets from mid-summer through early fall. Fava beans are available from late spring though early summer.