Broad beans: benefits & properties

Broad beans: benefits & properties

That the Broad beans make a fixed couple with the pecorino is not new. In fact, it is a union of fact that know the two regions well, which, coincidentally, boast the primacy of the best producers of this seasoned and tasty cheese: Lazio and Sardinia.

But, beyond the culinary traditions, the beans are found on the market stalls throughout Italy. And luckily, it would be added, considering their remarkable nutritional characteristics: rich in proteins and vegetable fibers,  but low in gasses , unmissable sources of vitamins and minerals . Without forgetting that, despite the qualities and properties they possess, they are an extremely inexpensive food .

Broad beans: what they are

The fava bean plant (Vicia faba L. ) is a legume belonging to the Fabaceae family . It is a herbaceous plant with very rapid growth, with erect stems , on average up to 1 m tall, large and quadrangular, not branched but with some secondary stem that develops at the base of the main stem. The root is taproot and has large tubercles.

The gray-green leaves are alternate and composed of two or three pairs of elliptic sessile leaflets, with the terminal leaflet slightly modified in an appendix due to the typical curl of the leaves of the Vicieae species .

The flowers have white or purple petals and are very showy. Usually they have a characteristic dark spot on the lower petals. They develop from a short raceme placed at the axillary base of the leaf stem and can be from 1 to 6.

The elongated ovary contains from 2 to 10 eggs and once fertilized it develops into a long and voluminous green pod which, when advanced, turns towards dark green and contains from 2 to 10 light green seeds, but, in some varieties, also brown or violet.

The size of the seeds

The shape and size of the seeds can be very variable depending on the botanical species to which they belong. Three are distinguished:

  • Broad Bean ( Vicia faba maior ), which has pods with flattened and large seeds, suitable for human consumption.
  • Favino or Fava Piccola ( Vicia faba minor ), which produces small and round seeds that are used to sow herb and green manure (agronomic practice that serves to restore the nutrients of the soil between one crop and another) or for feeding the livestock.
  • Favetta or Fava Cavallina ( Vicia faba equina ), which produces flattened seeds of medium size intended for the feeding of livestock and, today, also of man as fresh canned or frozen grain.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization ( FAO ) estimates that world bean production in 2014 was around 4 million tons, 15% of which produced in Europe (FAO, 2014).

Broad beans are widely consumed in different parts of the world:

  • Egypt
  • Sudan
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Saudi Arabia
  • India
  • China.

The history of the beans

Broad beans have been part of human nutrition since very remote times. Their countries of origin are Southwest Asia, North Africa, the Mediterranean area and the countries of the Middle East .

Furthermore, paleobotanical studies tell us that broad beans and field beans were the most widespread and consumed legume, together with lentil, already in the Neolithic period .

In addition, the Romans consumed it both fresh and dry and used it for baking. They were always great lovers of this legume. For example, the gastronomy Marco Gavio Apicio, who lived at the turn of the year zero, was given a recipe book, the ” De Re Coquinaria “, collected and published in the third century AD, thanks to which many recipes of the Roman cuisine of the bean-based era .

But, with the discovery of America began the decline of beans in favor of the bean.

Broad beans: nutritional properties

Broad bean seeds are rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, γ-aminobutyric acid and phenolic compounds to which important antioxidant activities are attributed . For this reason, the consumption of fresh fava beans or processed fava bean products can help in combating degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, cancer and diabetes.

In addition, like all legumes, including beans are an important source of protein , carbohydrates and fiber in low fat : they are very good, so, in low-calorie diets.

In addition, they contain important micronutrients and bioactive phytochemicals, in particular phenolic compounds, oligosaccharides, enzyme inhibitors, phytosterols and saponins .

These substances, together with the low cholesterol content and the low glycemic index, make the beans a food that has anticancer, antidiabetic, antiobesity and cardio-protective effects .

Lysine: beneficial properties

Of the proteins contained in this legume, about 30% are rich in lysine , an essential amino acid important in the functioning of the human body. In particular lysine:

  • comes into play in the composition of collagen , the basic substance for the formation of connective tissues, such as cartilage and tendons. Its integration can be useful for a faster post-trauma recovery or intervention
  • in combination with methionine, it represents the amino acid precursor of carnitine
  • promotes the formation of antibodies and some hormones , including growth hormone
  • contributes to the fixation of calcium in the bones for a balanced development of the skeletal system
  • helps hair growth as it is rich in keratin
  • promotes muscle growth by increasing the post-workout protein synthesis rate: it is therefore useful in sports nutrition.
Broad beans: nutritional values
Broad beans: benefits & properties 1

Broad beans: health benefits

Let’s find out what are the benefits we can get by using and placing the beans in our spring menus.

Against chronic and cardiovascular diseases

They are particularly rich in micronutrients essential for physical well-being . These include magnesium, calcium and some essential trace elements such as iron, copper and zinc. But even more interesting are the concentrations of sodium and potassium which make the consumption of fava beans particularly important in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Antimicrobial activity

The antimicrobial activity observed in the beans is due to its phenolic compounds. However, this property is exploited only in the breeding sector: research has not yet been carried out to show how the antimicrobial action of the beans could have a possible impact on the treatment of human infections .

Broad beans: antioxidant activity

They are rich in phenolic compounds such as:

  • procyanidins
  • catechins
  • flavonols
  • isoflavones
  • phenolic acids
  • tannins.

They are all natural antioxidants that counteract the damage caused by free radicals to DNA.


The fava bean extracts have proven effective in suppressing the proliferation of different types of human cancer cells (colon, bladder, liver) . Extracts obtained from both fresh and toasted beans of two different varieties were tested: Nura and Rossa.

Anti-diabetic and anti-obesity properties

In recent laboratory studies on mice with induced diabetes, it has been observed that phenolic compounds extracted from fava beans have the ability to inhibit the digestion of carbohydrates and lipids . But, this property reduces the digestion of starch, the absorption of sugar and fat, also contributing to weight maintenance .

Consumption of fava beans and Parkinson’s

Fresh fava beans contain a substance called L-Dopa , which appears to be able to increase the concentration of dopamine in the brain and reverse the symptoms of Parkinson’s .

For this reason, it is a widespread practice among Parkinson’s patients, although there is no reliable evidence of their clinical efficacy, the administration of broad beans as a source of natural L-dopa .

Side effects: favism

The  favismo  is not common allergy but a real hereditary genetic disease, caused by the lack of an enzyme : glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase ( G6PD ). In fact, this genetic variant can cause, under certain conditions, acute anemia: more precisely a hemolytic crisis (destruction of red blood cells).

The hemolytic crisis is triggered when the subject takes fresh or dried beans or simply inhales the vapors.

Generally, this occurs between 12 and 48 hours after coming into contact with the food. The symptoms of the crisis include:

  • jaundice
  • severe anemia
  • pallor
  • weakness
  • kidney dysfunction
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • He retched.

But favism is dangerous especially in children : if the attack is serious it must also be treated with blood transfusions.

The G6PD gene

The G6PD gene is on the X chromosome. Therefore in males , if their only X chromosome has the enzymopenic gene, all red blood cells will be enzymopenic. Instead, in women, there is usually an affected X chromosome and a normal one: therefore, if they have favism, it will be in a milder form. The female carriers of the abnormal gene can transmit the deficit to all their children, the males only to the daughters.

However, it remains the area in the Mediterranean where it is most widespread ever: it affects 13% of the population.

But, in addition to this very serious intolerance of a genetic nature, there may be cases of allergy that prohibit the consumption of beans.


The beans have a laxative effect thanks to the abundant fiber content, so it is advisable to consume them in moderation if you suffer from diarrhea.

How to consume and store beans

The most classic way to consume the beans is to taste them fresh, accompanied by cheeses, in particular sheep’s cheeses, or cold cuts.

At the industrial preparation level , in addition to being dried, the beans are prepared in boxes or frozen.

The pods of fresh fava beans can be kept in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 days, but over time the cold storage makes the seeds hard inside.

In addition, dried seeds can be found on the market all year round and can be stored for a long time and used in soups or soups.

But, before being cooked, the dried beans must be soaked for about 18 hours if the seed still retains the peel, or for 8 if they are free.

Bean curd

From the very finely toasted and chopped beans it is possible to obtain a flour, which is naturally gluten-free and which can be used, in association with other flours, for the production of:

  • bread
  • pasta
  • other baked goods.

How to choose the beans

Broad beans can be purchased fresh in spring, usually between early April and mid-June.

When buying, it is important to pay attention to the consistency and color of the pod. In fact, this must appear a beautiful vivid green and to the touch it must be slightly “crunchy” and not too chewy. In addition, it must not have cracks, marks or spots that are too large.

Inside, the pod must be moist and covered with a very light down. To the touch it is possible to test the size of the seeds stored in the pod, which are normally 5 or 6.

Broad beans: possible alternative uses

During processing, about 70% of the harvest, in the form of pods, is discarded as waste. Therefore, on an industrial level it results in an economic problem due to the high amount of material that must be disposed of.

A pity if we consider that the pods of the beans have a strong nutritional potential . In fact, this “by-product” is not yet exploited adequately: the pods of the beans could in fact be inserted in the feed of the ruminants .

In fact, a recent study has, in fact, revealed that in the pods of the beans there are high levels of antioxidant compounds . The polyphenolic compounds identified play an important role in human and animal health and nutrition thanks to their properties: antiviral, anti-ulcerogenic, cytotoxic, antineoplastic, antimutagene, anti-inflammatory, antihepatotoxic, antihypertensive, hypolipemic and antiplatelet.

Some studies have revealed that the inclusion of products rich in polyphenols, just like bean pods, in the diet of dairy cows would improve the quality of the milk itself, also increasing its antioxidant capacity.

Furthermore, given that since 2006 the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics as additives in ruminants, the plant extracts of the pods, rich in metabolites with antimicrobial properties, could represent an alternative therapy .

Use in the kitchen

Unlike other legumes, the beans have the advantage that they can be eaten raw and in a very practical way. This makes them ideal not only for consumption between meals , as a genuine snack, but also for use as crudités in appetizers or salads or as an accompaniment to second courses based on cheeses and sausages. A healthy choice that allows you to enjoy the properties of legumes without losing their nutritional characteristics during cooking.

But, like all legumes, even the beans lend themselves to the preparation of soups, minestrone and velvety . In this case, dried beans can also be used.

In addition, they are also excellent as a sauce for pasta and risotto . As soon as they are seared, they can be a tasty base for an alternative hummus to the classic one with chickpeas, ideal for spreading on slices of toasted bread.

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