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Ever Wondered About... Beans?

Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2005

The history and culture of beans

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Paul Merrett, our chef Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Production team History

Bean history dates back thousands of years — they’re thought to be native to Peru, but were carried around the world by soldiers. Remains of beans have been found in excavations dating back to 7,000 BC, and it’s thought the Egyptians even had temples devoted to them as symbols of life.

Henry J. Heinz first created baked beans in tomato sauce in Pittsburgh, USA, in 1895. They were introduced to Britain 9 years later, and were first made in UK factories in 1928. The slogan ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ was used for more than 22 years to advertise the product.

World War II increased the demand for beans as they became a staple in the C-rations used by US servicemen around the world. After the war, as the US’s food relief efforts around the world intensified, so did dry bean production.

Science

Beans are perfect if you’re on a low-fat diet. Not only do most beans have just 2-3% fat, but their high fibre content can help lower your cholesterol. The fibre helps the body get rid of bile acids in the liver, which otherwise could turn into cholesterol. Add the fact that most beans contain at least 20 per cent protein and are full of iron and B vitamins — and it’s clear why being full of beans is a good thing!

But there’s always a downside, and with beans, that’s flatulence. Beans contain certain types of carbohydrates called oligosaccharides which react with the bacteria in the large intestine. It’s this reaction that produces a mixture of gases that include methane and sulphur. And it’s the sulphur that produces the pong of rotten eggs.

Beans also contain proteins called lectins. The good news? Lectins in broad beans could help prevent or even reverse the effects of bowel cancer, one of the UK’s biggest killers. The bad news? Lectins can be poisonous, and can give you a nasty stomach problem. But they’re killed off by cooking, so make sure you always boil your beans before tucking in.

James Sumner won a Nobel prize for working on beans! In 1926 Sumner obtained crystals of an enzyme called urease from jack beans – it was the first time that such a large biological molecule had been crystallised. It was later found that urease also contains nickel and beans are one of our main sources of nickel – a trace metal that we need.

 

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