Lima beans are green kidney-shaped beans. The beans have a buttery flavor, and a mealy, astringent texture. Lima beans are naturally high in vitamins A and C, as well as iron and protein. Limas are very starchy, and contain 60 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Lima beans are harvested primarily from plants grown in Peru.
Lima beans originated in Peru and are named for the capital city, Lima. According to the Oklahoma State Agriculture Department, lima beans have been grown in Peru since 6,000 B.C. In the United States, lima beans are more commonly referred to as "butter beans," because of their buttery flavor.
Most of the world's supply of lima beans is grown in Peru. Fresh lima beans can be hard to find in the United States, but are occasionally sold in farmers markets by gardeners who have lima bean plants in their home garden.
Lima beans contain a compound called linamarin (also called cyanogen) that is very dangerous. When the seed coat of the lima bean is opened manually or naturally, the cyanogen releases cyanide. Home gardeners who are not knowledgeable or experienced in growing and handling lima bean plants should not attempt to do so.
The United States has regulations that limit the varieties of lima beans grown commercially. There are exceptions for varieties of lima bean plants that produce very low levels of cyanogen.
Do not eat lima beans raw, directly off the plant. Even low levels of cyanide are toxic. Cooking the beans deactivates the cyanide compound, so the beans should be cooked completely through, by boiling or microwaving, to ensure they are safe to eat.