Beans are starting to shed their wallflower nature and play the role of the leading lady instead of the best friend. With the rise of several culinary trends including the desire for increased protein, vegetable driven menus, and a shift towards more exotic, global inspired cuisines, beans are the perfect ingredient to incorporate into contemporary menus.
As beans provide a neutral palate, they can serve much of the same function as grains and proteins in various dishes. Their neutrality also allows for beans to act as a bridge to transport global flavors, allowing unfamiliar cuisines to enter the culinary scene in a less threatening manner for diners.
Health Benefits of Beans
Part of the pulse group, beans can be divided into two families – familiars, which include chickpeas, black beans, lentils, kidney beans, and lima beans, and experimentals, which include lupin beans, yam beans, adzuki beans, and scarlet runners.
Clinical research ties beans to improved cognitive function, improved memory and focus, decreased risk for diabetes onset, heart disease, colon cancer and polyps, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, and obesity. In fact, consumers who have higher bean intake have overall lower body mass indexes.
Consider recent research:
- UC San Francisco's American Academy of Neurology reported that iron-rich foods, such as beans, may ward of dementia
- Loma Linda U found a high-fiber bean-rich diet was as effective as a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss
- National Polytechnic Institute found that black beans contain bioactive peptides that may lower blood pressure and oxidative stress
- University of Calgary reported that yellow pea fiber improves glycaemia and reduces Clostridium
- University of Adelaide found that resistant starch found in root vegetables, grains and legumes, may reverse some of the damaging effects of red meat on cells
Incorporating Beans on a Menu
Beyond health research, beans play an integral role in food and flavor trends and beans can be incorporated into a number of dishes. Beans are common in all of the top global cuisines, including regional Mexican, South American, Middle Eastern and others, so consider featuring dishes that tie beans to a regional cuisine.
Hummus is one of the poster dishes right now for this category. But also think of salsas, layered dishes like lasagna, filled foods like empanadas, dips and spreads beyond hummus, and for familiar foreign cuisine (like Mexican), make sure you choose regional specialty dishes.
But most importantly, in whatever dish you chose, celebrate beans, play with them, and be inspired by them.