|ABOUT THE BEAN
How long man has cultivated the bean is not known with certainty. We do have scientifically
verified evidence found in the Spirit Cave in northern Thailand,near the Burmese border,
establishing a date by which the bean was used for food. Layers of earth excavated from the
cafe held remnants of beans, peas, water,chestnuts, cucumber and a pepper and have been
dated to 9750 BC. There are deeper layers to be explored in the Spirit Cave, so named
because it is believed to have served as a mausoleum. When further excavations are made
and analyzed it is hoped they will reveal more about even earlier eating habits of these
Other indications of early bean cultivation have been found in Mexico in the Tamau1ipas
mountain caves dating back to about 7000 BC, and in Peru that date back to before 5680 BC.
The bean may have arrived in China from Southeast Asia. If so once there, the Chinese
skillfully developed a variety of bean products. The soy bean certainly must rank high on the
list of prolific beans, providing the Chinese with milk, soy sauce, bean curd, cheese, oil and
flour. The flour was made into many kinds of cakes as well as noodles.
The lentil is a popular bean in modern India and Pakistan and used in soups, bean dishes,
to make 'da1' a puree that is part of most curry meals, and is flour for certain breads. It was
an item in the diet of the inhabitants of Mohan-jo-Daro. This ancient city, part of the Indus
Valley civilization, was master planned and had brick and mortar houses with indoor
bathrooms, and an underground sewage system which seems to have been very modern for
4,000 BC, even by today's standards.
They also ate well. Excavations revealed they had the knowledge and the ingredients for
curry powder, mustard seed, cumin, fennel, tamarind pod rinds, and other spices. They even
had the equipment for producing it, the mortal and pestle needed for grinding the spices into
powder. Ancient texts have been found, but translation of them has proved elusive and we
may never have the pleasure of knowing the true recipe for the original curry powder.
The chickpea (also called garbanzo) is a long time favorite in the Middle East and
Mediterranean. This bean is the basis of many dishes today, including one named humus
(sometimes spelled hummus) for which the chickpea is mashed with olive oil, lemon and
spices. It is worthy of its popularity throughout the Arab world. The noble Roman family of
Cicero is said to have taken its name from the chickpea, the 'cicer arietinum'. However,
during one period of ancient history, some of the upper class Greeks and Romans believed
that beans contained the souls of those departed, so there was a reluctance to eat them.
Before scientists analyzed the bean as rich in iron, copper and phosphorus it was believed
the flatulence beans produced assisted stimulating man for sexual encounters. Ancient
Romans wrote of the glories of the bean as did the Chinese, in more modern times St.
Jerome, to avoid 'genital excitation', kept beans from the nuns of his convent in Jerusalem.
The English love their beans and celebrate them in Ballads.
The first Pilgrims in America learned of baked beans from the Indians who cooked their
beans overnight. They used clay pots placed in holes dug in the ground, surrounded by hot
stones. The beans were first soaked and then mixed with onions and deer fat. The Indian
baking method proved a boon to the Pilgrim women who were forbidden by religious codes
from cooking on Sunday. As long as the ban on Sunday cooking existed, the traditional
Sunday dinner was baked beans prepared on Saturday and cooked overnight.
In many regions, for millenniums beans have traditionally been served with grain products
like rice, wheat, barley and rye. On the Indian subcontinent lentils and other beans were
served with rice and chapatis (round unleavened bread); in the Middle East beans were
served with rice and unleavened bread; in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia menus of
beans, bean curd, and rice were common; in Europe beans and wheat, barley, rye and rice.
Over time there has been little change.
Today we know that this combination of proteins complement each other to better our health.
But how did they know so long ago?
The root of the bean plant has served mankind as well as the bean. As development of the
plow progressed from a stick pulled by a man to a larger one that cut deeper and was pulled
by a domesticated animal, soil exhaustion became a problem. The importance of crop
rotation began to be realized. Curiosity and experimentation with crop rotation led to the
discovery that rotating the planting of beans and peas with that of wheat, rye and barley
improved the soil and produced a much better crop yield.
The thought of flatulence has caused many to hesitate from eating beans and many who
have eaten them suffer discomfort. Emperor Claudius
(10BC-54AD) almost put a stop to that by changing the rules of etiquette. At one time he
planned issuing an edict making it socially acceptable to break wind, either noisily or silently,
while dining. He changed his plans, so we will never know how it might have affected the
bean's popularity or modern dinner table etiquette.
Help is on the way. Researchers have evidently developed a gasless bean. There are also
two products on the market, one a liquid whose maker claims a few drops does away with
flatulence, the other a small charcoal pill taken with the meal. Those who have used them
guarantee they alleviate the problem completely. The pills are available at drug stores.
There are three recommended natural ways to reduce the problem: 1) rinse after overnight
soaking, then parboil for 5 minutes and rinse again; 2) cooking the beans with a few caraway
seeds; and 3) eating beans more often allows the system to become better able to handle
them. When next encountering the mighty bean try one or all of these three
29 May/ 27 Nov. 2002 William J. Pearson