Lima Bean

Other names: Butter Bean

General Information: Sometimes called "butter beans" because of their starchy yet buttery texture, lima beans have a delicate flavor that complements a wide variety of dishes. Although fresh lima beans are often difficult to find, they are worth looking for in the summer and fall when they are in season. Dried and canned lima beans are available throughout the year.

The pod of the lima bean is flat, oblong and slightly curved, averaging about three inches in length. Within the pod are the two to four flat kidney-shaped seeds that we call lima beans. The seeds are generally cream or green in color, although certain varieties feature colors such as white, red, purple, brown or black.

Nutritional: Lima beans are a very good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, as are most other legumes. In addition to lowering cholesterol, lima beans' high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal, making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. When combined with whole grains such as rice, lima beans provide virtually fat-free high quality protein. You may already be familiar with beans' fiber and protein, but this is far from all lima beans have to offer.

Applications: To cook lima beans, place them in a pot and add three to four cups of fresh water or broth for each cup of dried beans. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, partially covering the pot. Lima beans generally take about one and one-half hours to become tender when cooking this way. Lima beans may produce a lot of foam during cooking. Simply skim any foam off during the first half hour or so of the simmering process. Because of the foam limas often produce, it is recommended to avoid cooking them in a pressure cooker.

Do not add any seasonings that are salty or acidic until after the beans have been cooked since adding them earlier will make the beans tough and greatly increase the cooking time.

While uncooked lima beans contain compounds that can inhibit a digestive enzyme and cause red blood cells to clump together, soaking and cooking the beans renders these compounds harmless. Therefore, it is important to always eat soaked and cooked beans and not to use them uncooked by, for example, grinding dried beans into flour.

History: Although lima beans have been cultivated in Peru for more than 7,000 years, historians are unsure whether they originated there or in Guatemala. Soon after Columbus' discovery of America, Spanish explorers noticed different varieties of lima beans growing throughout the South America, Central America and the Caribbean. They introduced them to Europe and Asia, while the Portuguese explorers introduced lima beans into Africa. Since lima beans can withstand humid tropical weather better than most beans, they have become an important crop in areas of Africa and Asia. Lima beans were introduced into the United States in the 19th century with the majority of domestic commercial production centered in California.

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