The History of Bean Plants


Much of the world's population relies on some type of beans for daily sustenance. From the red Japanese adzuki bean to soybeans, which are used in a large variety of foodstuffs, to the pinto bean of burrito fame, this legume feeds many people every day. Many hybrid varieties of beans have been developed in recent years to provide disease resistance and vigor to this useful crop.

Types of Bean Plants

The Phaseolus genus in the Fabaceae plant family contains over 80 species of known beans throughout the world. Beans include, but are not limited to the following varieties: lima beans, scarlet runner beans, green beans, adzuki beans, black beans, pinto beans, soybeans, fava beans, bush and pole string beans, sword beans, mung beans, kidney beans, cranberry beans and white and pink beans. Other legumes that are called beans include the garbanzo, or chickpea, split peas, black-eyed peas and lentils.

General History

The first bean plant is thought to have originated in the Andes and other parts of Mesoamerica, and it quickly spread to other parts of the world. Leading producers of dry beans include India and Brazil. China provides the world with more green beans than all other growing countries combined. Because of their high protein content, beans of all types have been used to supplement meat and fish in cultures where these commodities have sometimes become scarce. Beans, corn and squash were the staple foods of the Native American Indians.

Pinto Beans History

Many common types of beans, such as the pinto bean, are known as Phaseolus vulgaris. Their ancestor came from Peru and the ancient people of South America spread the plants through their migrations and travels. When Spanish explorers of the 1500s returned to Europe, they took bean seeds with them because they had discovered the good taste and multiple uses of this vegetable. Pinto beans are often dried, then soaked and used in many different recipes. They have become the most-consumed dry bean in the United States.

Lima Beans History

Although Americans pronounce the name of this bean with a long "i," lima beans were once thought to come from Lima, Peru, pronounced with a long "e." Known botanically as Phaseolus lunatos, the lima bean is now believed to have originated in Guatemala. Traveling Indian tribes introduced this bean to other parts of Central America, the West Indies and into the North American southwest, where the Hopi Indians readily adopted them into their food crops. Sixteenth century explorers quickly realized that these beans, when dried, traveled well and they introduced them to Europe, Africa, India and the Philippines. Records show that the lima bean existed in these countries by the turn of the nineteenth century. Its first appearance in Europe dates back to 1591.

Soybean History

The soybean originally came from Southeast Asia, and has been cultivated in China since before 1100 BC. Soybeans spread to other Asian countries such as Japan and by the first century AD were grown in many countries. The first known cultivation of soybeans in the United States occurred in Georgia in 1765, according to the North Carolina Soybean Producers website. In the mid-1800s, soybeans became a cash crop in the U.S. farm belt states, where they served as a good source of animal feed. George Washington Carver, the famous chemist, found that soybeans are high in protein and their oil is highly edible in 1905. Today, soybeans make up a large international industry and are grown for many products, including soy sauce, tofu and soybean oil. The United States produces 32 percent of the world's soybeans.

Keywords: beans history, pinto soybean lima, Phaseolus vulgaris

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.