SOUPSONG HAS GONE HARDCOPY!
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Beans are legumes--that is, the seed of a plant that has pods. And because all legumes absorb nitrogen from the air, they are rich sources of protein--more than in any other plant food, in fact.
Beans are also one of the oldest things around--and one of the first wild plants to be domesticated, long before any wild animals truckled to mankind's hand.
They are high in soluble fiber, which helps control blood cholesterol; they're low in calories and fat; and they're good for diabetics, because their balance of complex carbohydrates and proteins provides a steady source of glucose. Also--great source of starch, B-complex vitamins, iron, potassium, and zinc.
To fart...So why hasn't man figured out a way to diminish their fart potential? An interesting question. First you have to understand the science of the phenomenon. Beans have complex sugars in them--oligosaccharides--that can't be digested by human digestive enzymes. So these sugars sail untouched through the upper intestine, only to be met in the lower intestine by the local population: lean and hungry bacteria with a sweet tooth. In a sense, it's THEM with the gas. They eat; they give off gas...then it's our problem. Concentrations of these sugars in dried legumes cause the most problems--navy beans and limas get the prize as the worst and smelliest culprits.
Interestingly, the LESS you eat of beans in general, the more you fart. In high bean diets--like Mexican cuisines--it's just not that much of a problem. It's only when you're the occasional indulgent that your bacteria can't control themselves. Otherwise, flatulence is also a function of swallowing--like if you gulp down a lot of air with your food--and it further depends on the personality of your own individual gastrointestinal tract.
Or not to fartIf you want to, ahem, get a grip on the problem? There's a couple things you can do. First, don't undercook--you want the beans as digestible as possible. Second, when you're soaking, keep changing the water. And when you're ready to cook, rinse the beans thoroughly and change the water again. And when you're cooking, keep changing the water. Get it? The more complex sugars you dump out with the water, the less the bacteria have to eat. In the case of canned beans, throw out the bean liquid and wash the beans under water with your hands.
Here's what NOT to do: Don't add baking soda. Not only does it fail to reduce the gas-producing sugars, it also toughens the beans and destroys nutrients.
The storied beanFrom Grimm's Fairy Tale about "The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean," the critical role of beans in European society is clear:
FoodTale: Once there was a poor old woman who lived in a village. She had collected a bundle of beans and was going to cook them. So she prepared a fire on her hearth, and to make it burn up quickly she lighted it with a handful of straw. When she threw the beans into the pot, one escaped her unnoticed and slipped onto the floor, where it lay by a straw. Soon afterwards a glowing coal jumped out of the fire and joined the others. Then the straw began and said, "Little friends, how did you come here?" The coal answered, ''I have happily escaped the fire, and if I had not done so by force of will, my death would certainly have been a most cruel one. I should have been burnt to a cinder." The bean said, ''I also have escaped so far with a whole skin. But if the old woman had put me into the pot, I should have been pitilessly boiled down to broth like my comrades." "Would a better fate have befallen me, then?" asked the straw. "The old woman packed all my brothers into the fire and smoke. Sixty of them were all done for at once. Fortunately I slipped through her fingers." "What are we to do now, though?" asked the coal. "My opinion is," said the bean, "that, as we have escaped death, we must all keep together like good comrades. And so that we may run no furtherrisks, we had better quit this country." This proposal pleased both the others, and they set out together. Before long they came to a little stream where there was neither path nor bridge, and they did not know how to get over. The straw at last had an idea and said, "I will throw myself over and then you can walk across upon me like a bridge." So the straw stretched himself across from one side to the other, and the coal, which was of a fiery nature, tripped gaily over the newly built bridge." But when it got to the middle and heard the water rushing below, it was frightened and remained speechless, not daring to go any further. The straw, beginning to burn, broke in two and fell into the stream. The coal, falling with it, fizzled out in the water. The bean, who had cautiously remained on the bank, could not help laughing over the whole business, and having begun could not stop, but laughed till she split her sides. Now all would have been up with her had not, fortunately, a wandering tailor been taking a rest by the stream. As he had a sympathetic heart, he brought out a needle and thread and stitched her up again, but as he used black thread all beans have a black seam to this day.
Using the old beanOver 14,000 species of the Fabaceae family (formerly called leguminusae) exist--but only some 20 are actually grown in any quantity as a human food.
Here are of the main ones: