Fava beans might sound exotic, but they’re actually one of the UK’s oldest domesticated food crops – we’ve been growing and eating them here since the Iron Age. Fava bean plants - or Vicia Faba to give them their official name - belong to the pea and bean family. In the UK, we export thousands and thousands of them a year and import chickpeas instead. We’re trying to change that, in an effort to get more of you lot eating British grains and pulses!
They’re also a prized crop for farmers because of their amazing nitrogen fixing properties - great for soil health.
What's the difference between a fava bean and a broad bean?
It’s a good question! Fava beans and broad beans are very closely related – and in the US they even call fava beans ‘broad beans’ - just to confuse things further...
But the difference is quite simple. ‘Broad bean’ is the name given to the varieties of Vicia Faba plant that produce larger, flatter beans. These beans are picked and eaten fresh in the late spring. The smaller fava beans, meanwhile, are left to fully mature and dry on the plant - before being harvested in the autumn.
Why have I never heard of fava beans before?
Although fava beans are still very popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and African cuisine, they began to fall out of fashion in the UK around the time of the Agricultural revolution.
People began to think of pulses as the food of the poor and most of the fava beans are harvested every year were exported or used as animal feed.
Modern awareness of health and climate change has begun to slowly to change that though, and the fava bean is firmly back on the British menu.
Are fava beans good for you?
Yes – and some! Fava beans are incredibly nutritious for their tiny size, boasting high levels of protein, iron, fibre and just about everything good. Here are some facts that will make you want to eat more beans:
- Fava beans pack a protein punch with around 8g of protein per 100g of beans
- Fava beans are a rich source of dietary fibre (66% per100g RDA), which has been shown to decrease blood cholesterol levels
- Fava beans are rich in phytonutrients, which have also been proven to lower cholesterol levels in the body
- Fava beans are also an excellent source of folates which, alongside vitamin B-12, is one of the essential components of DNA synthesis and cell division
- Fava beans are one of the finest sources of minerals such as iron, copper, manganese, calcium and magnesium
- Finally, fava beans are one of the richest plant sources of potassium, which helps counter the effects of sodium on heart and blood pressure.
How amazing is that?!
“Modern awareness of health and climate change has begun to slowly change... the fava bean is firmly back on the British menu."
What does nitrogen fixing mean?
Nitrogen fixing means taking nitrogen from the air and converting it into nitrogen in the soil. Fava beans do this with the help of a particular strain of bacteria that lives on their root nodules and it results in them adding more nitrogen to the soil than they take out. This in turn supports other plant and animal life and reduces the need for fertilisers. Find out more about nitrogen fixing here.
What do fava beans taste like?
Fava beans have a creamy, earthy, nutty, slightly sweet taste. They’re delicious whizzed into dips or roasted and seasoned. They’re also great chucked by the handful into soups and stews.
Because of their handy ability to take on other flavours and their massive nutritional punch, they’re prized all over the world as a superfood.