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Lima beans
Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Lima beans are among the most popular shell beans in the United States. These smooth, flat shaped, sweet tasting beans have a rich, starchy, meaty texture and a creamy, distinctive flavor. Lima beans are nutrient-dense and their richness generates feelings of satiety (they make you feel full). Often referred to in some southern states in the U.S. as "butter beans," lima beans date back to 5,000 BC along the coastal regions of South America. They are believed to have originated in Guatemala and Southern Mexico and were traded along routes that led into North America, and eventually were carried to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Early explorers stored dry lima beans for long periods on their ships, recognizing that lima beans were a nutritious and highly concentrated food source for the sailors.

In fact, lima beans are a good source of B vitamins (vitamin B6, niacin, folate), protein (including the important amino acid lysine), fiber (especially soluble fiber in the form of pectin), iron, potassium, and magnesium; and they have very little fat. Studies suggest that intake of beans can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, probably due to their soluble fiber content. Lima beans also contain the phytochemicals coumestrol and saponin, compounds that may impart anticancer benefits.

Most of the lima beans in the U.S. are grown along the California coastal areas. They are also produced in other states including Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Fresh varieties sold in their pods can sometimes be found in local markets. Before European settlers reached the Americas, a type of bean believed to be similar to or related to the lima bean was grown by Native Americans in the southwestern and East Coast regions of the U.S. These beans were commonly inter-cropped by Native Americans with corn, hence, the origin of succotash, a side dish that combines lima beans and corn.

Varieties

One of the most widely available beans, lima beans come in two sizes: large, flat lima beans, called Fordhooks or "butter" beans, and baby limas, which are not really young lima beans but are a smaller, milder-tasting variety. Both are sold frozen as well as dried and canned, though frozen lima beans are perhaps more prevalent and commonly consumed. There is wide variety of seed sizes, shapes, and color combinations among lima beans, although most of the lima beans currently grown in the U.S. are the Fordhook and the baby lima bean. Baby lima beans are less starchy than the larger Fordhook variety. Generally, the greener the inner bean, the better the texture and flavor.

Availability

Fresh lima beans in the pod can occasionally be found in local markets or farmers' markets. Frozen lima beans are available in supermarkets year round. Dried lima beans are available in supermarkets and health food stores.

Shopping

Lima beans in the pod should be free of blemishes, feel firm and not at all mushy. Fresh lima beans should feel full in the pod. Look for pods that are full but not too large. The larger the pod, the larger the bean and very large fresh limas tend to be very starchy. If shopping for frozen limas, make sure that the beans rattle around in the box, this indicates that the beans are properly frozen and haven't been thawed.

Storage

Store fresh limas in their pods in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Limas can be removed from the pod a day in advance and kept in a covered bowl in the refrigerator.

Keep frozen limas in the freezer until ready to use. They may be cooked without thawing. Once cooked, eat within a day as longer storage will cause the beans to become mushy and lose their flavor.

Preparation

FRESH LIMAS
In order to be eaten, lima beans must be shelled. Lima bean pods are rather thick and tough. To shell limas, hold a pod in your hand with the seam-side up. Using a paring knife make a horizontal cut under the seam (not too deep because then you'll be cutting into the bean). Continue making the cut from one end to the other. Open the pod with your fingers, and remove the bean. Discard the pod. A pound of limas in the pod, will yield about 1 cup of beans.

The tiniest of shelled fresh lima beans may be eaten raw in salads. Otherwise, both fresh and frozen lima beans must be cooked.

Braised or Stewed: Saute a small onion and a little minced garlic in olive oil until tender. Add shelled lima beans, stir to coat. Add water to cover, thyme and salt, and simmer 10 to 15 minutes--depending upon the size of the limas--until tender.

If you prefer, you can make succotash: cook limas with onion, garlic, tomatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper until tender. Add fresh or frozen corn kernels and cook until corn is tender. A small amount of butter swirled in once the beans are cooked and off the heat will make for a creamy sauce.

Lima beans can also be added to soups and stews. Add fresh or frozen beans about 20 minutes before the dish is finished.

DRIED LIMAS
Dried lima beans are cooked in water until tender; adjust the cooking time to the final use you have planned. For instance, for salads, cook the beans until just done, firm but not mushy; for soups and purees, cook them until they are very soft.

Soaking beans: Dried beans are usually presoaked to shorten their cooking time. Without presoaking, the cooking time may be an hour or more longer. You can quick-soak beans in an hour, or soak them for 8 hours or overnight (in the refrigerator). For either method, place the beans in a large pot (they will double in size during soaking) and add enough water to cover: about 10 cups of water per pound of beans, or two to three times the beans' volume in water. For quick-soaking, bring the water to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. For long soaking, let the beans stand in cold water at room temperature for no longer than 8 hours. For longer soaking, or in warm weather, place the pot of beans in the refrigerator; otherwise they will begin to ferment.

Cooking beans: With either soaking method, pour off the soaking water. Then add the required amount of fresh water or broth; the liquid should cover the beans by about 2". Bring the liquid slowly to a boil, skimming off the scum that rises to the surface. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are tender. Stir occasionally, and add more water, if necessary. The beans are done when they can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. The amount of time it takes to cook beans varies with the size, density, and age of the bean. Lima beans can take from 1 to 2 hours.

Nutrition Chart

Fresh Lima Beans/1 cup cooked

189
Total fat (g)
0.5
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
11
12
Carbohydrate (g)
35
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
52
Copper (mg)
0.4
Iron (mg)
3.5
Manganese (mg)
1.5
Magnesium (mg)
100
Phosphorus (mg)
202
Potassium (mg)
740

Dried Lima Beans/1 cup cooked

216
Total fat (g)
0.7
Saturated fat (g)
0.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
13
15
Carbohydrate (g)
39
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
4
Thiamin (mg)
0.3
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.3
Folate (mcg)
156
Copper (mg)
0.4
Iron (mg)
4.5
Manganese (mg)
1
Magnesium (mg)
81
Phosphorus (mg)
209
Potassium (mg)
955


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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