Borlotti beans

Borlotti beans have to be the prettiest of all the legumes.  With pink swirls on cream coloured pods it’s easy to see why they are also called cranberry beans.

Fresh borlotti beans are packaged in pink and cream colored pods.

Borlotti  beans are nutty and creamy, great in cold salads and soups and popular in Italian, Portuguese and Turkish dishes.  When cooking them think garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs like sage and basil.

Legumes (lentils, peas, peanuts and dried beans such as kidney, black, broad, fava, pinto, navy and garbanzo) have been traditionally viewed as “healthy” for us but recently they’ve been getting a bit of a bad wrap with the rise in popularity of the Paleo diet.  The primary argument against beans is that they contain lectins and phytic acid.  (There are a few other arguments against the humble bean too, but let me concentrate on the two most commonly cited).

Lectins (there are many different kinds) are found naturally in lots of animals and plants.  Having some lectins in the diet is in fact good for us as they break down bacteria, fungi and viruses.  Too many lectins in our bodies, however, has shown to break down membranes in the cells in our intestinal lining.  Legumes, grains, potatoes, seeds and nuts are particularly high in lectins in their raw state and many beans contain quite toxic lectins, which is why the Paleo diet came to the conclusion that legumes and grains (and sometimes potatoes depending on the version of the diet) should be ruled out of our diets.  Whilst the evidence is pretty clear that eating raw kidney beans and raw lentils are probably going to make us crook the good news is soaking, cooking, canning and fermenting reduces the lectin content to safe levels.  That’s kind of handy since we don’t eat lentils or black eyed peas raw anyway.

Phytate (phosphorus storage in plants) is also found in legumes, grains and nuts and because we can’t break it down it inhibits the intestinal absorption of iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc.  These are all really important minerals for the body.  Again, luckily for us, soaking, canning, cooking and fermenting pretty much eliminates phytic acid too.  Where Paleo logic confuses me a bit is nuts and seeds have higher levels of phytic acid than legumes do so it’s interesting that most versions of the Paleo diet allow nuts but not legumes.  The arguments I’ve seen to keep nuts in but legumes out is that you can soak, sprout or ferment phytic acid out of nuts (but this is also true for other legumes) and, they say, that nuts are a convenient and nutrient dense food (which is true) but that leads me onto the legume’s defence.

Legumes are an easy source of protein (although to put that in context, they are high protein as far as a carbohydrate goes but not so much when compared to meat, fish or eggs); they are also high in fiber, vitamins and minerals (although generally they are not nearly as dense in fiber or micronutrients as veggies) but there is still no denying that they provide folate, iron, magnesium and potassium.  They are also low in fat.  And did I mention cheap?

I  think cutting them out entirely just limits our diets of another good, natural food source to our meals.  Variety, is once again, key.  I’m not suggesting to eat a big bowl of legumes everyday – I don’t think we should narrow ourselves to any one food.  Not even kale!  But to me there are more reasons to include them in our diets occasionally than outcast them.  I agree that cavemen didn’t eat them, but long before the Western world was getting morbidly obese and sick from their diets Indians were eating dahl, the Mexicans we eating frijoles de la olla and Italians were eating minestrone soup.

So tonight, I had a meatless night and used the fresh borlotti beans that came in my regular veggie delivery box.  I’m not going to waste these beauties:

Since I wasn’t going to use them straight away I peeled the pods and spread the beans on a tray to freeze them. (Once frozen I transferred them to a container but this way they weren’t frozen in a clump).

I combined them in a soup pot with other veggies that I had in the fridge. Leek, fennel, peppers, carrots, sweet potato, green beans, onion and tomato.

The saddest thing about borlotti beans is the lose their pink swirls once they are cooked but they taste great. I often use tinned beans because they are convenient but I must admit I’m a bit of a fresh bean convert after eating these.


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9 Responses to Borlotti beans

  1. Looks like I’ll have to see if I can buy borlotti bean seeds through a specialist seed supplier, as I have never seen borlotti beans in the shops in New Zealand. Every year I have great success with scarlet runner beans (saving seed from one year’s harvest to use the next year). The seeds came from my late father’s beans and I have successfully kept them going year after year. With scarlet runners we eat the pod as well as the seeds inside. I wonder if borlotti beans will be as prolific and easy to grow.

    • Sarah says:

      I think someone in Kumeu used to grow them? Have a look on the net. I assume they’d call them “borlotti” beans in NZ but they may call them cranberry beans or French horticultural beans.
      That’s great that you can grow scarlet runner beans year after year with saving the seeds from the harvest. Especially when it was originally from your dad’s garden. Very special! I would have thought that if your scarlet runner beans are doing well you are likely to produce fine borlotti beans too – but I’m a terrible gardener so I’m not the best person to ask for thoughts on growing them!

  2. Bree says:

    I will freely admit to really liking canned baked beans. Warmed up for breakfast lunch or dinner. My hubby and I are really keen to try homemade baked beans as he thinks the canned ones are disgusting 🙂

    Can you tell me why lentils and beans can give some people pains in the belly? I made lentils and vege for the little guy once and he loved their texture and nutty taste but then suffered terribly from tummy pains all night. Needless to say I wasn’t in a hurry to repeat that experience.

    • Sarah says:

      I’m with your husband there on the homemade baked beans!!

      It’s hard to say why the lentils caused a problem in your little guy. It may have perhaps been that it was too much for him to handle at once and his body was working hard to breakdown the indigestible bits. (Our bodies don’t break down legumes in the small intestine because of an enzyme we don’t have for a sugar present in legumes. So the sugars in legumes go through to the large intestine undigested.) I don’t blame you for not wanting a repeat of the experience! Belly aches in kids are no fun for anyone in the family! I’d be cautious too! If you are wanting to try him on lentils or beans again perhaps try soaking and rinsing dried lentils really, really thoroughly or if you are eating canned, draining and rinsing thoroughly. You could maybe see if a smaller serving helps too?

  3. VJ says:

    The timing of this post is brilliant as I’ve just finished off a can of meditarranean bean soup since my meat hadn’t thawed in time for dinner – and I’d been wondering about the lectin because of the whole paleo thing. Interesting post 🙂 (And yeah, the borlotti beans in the soup weren’t as pretty as your pinky uncooked ones!)
    Out of curiosity, do you know much about chia seeds? I found a packet in the supermarket yesterday (they were yummy sprinkled thickly on the salmon where they formed a crust once the fat started cooking them on the bbq) but I don’t really know anything about them.

    • Sarah says:

      Well this is my view on beans anyway. I’m happy to be corrected if we find out that they really are causing great harm to the body even in small doses like mediterranean soup now and then.
      I think chia seeds are fantastic little vitamin packs and we incorporate them into meals now and again. I’ve never had them on salmon and I think that’s a great idea! I know they can hold a lot of liquid so some people use them to make jellies and puddings and things by soaking them in fruit juices and almond milk. I’m yet to try that and surely will blog about it if it is a success! A word of warning though. The same arguments against legumes can be made for chia seeds so if you are interested in trialling eliminating legumes along that train of thought then you’d need to cut these too. I think the more moderate Paleo guys advise to cut them if you have a known food allergy and / or an autoimmune disease. I don’t have either and I really like chia seeds so will add them to meals occasionally to add variety, nutrients and interest to my food.

  4. Adeline Ruth says:

    I’ve been researching paleo diets and have found your post to very informative on the subject. What do you think of these Paleo Diet Recipies? Would they be safe for someone just starting out on the diet and could there be any side effects?

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks for reading the blog and I’m thrilled you’ve found the post informative. I’m sorry but I can’t advise you on what the right diet is for your personal circumstances but most people find that eating a good variety of real food with plenty of fruits and vegetables and less processed food is a good direction to try. Good luck and please keep reading.

  5. Pingback: Turning chia seeds into chia gel | The Leaping Zucchini

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