Reaping healthy benefits from beans, peas and legumes


The humble soybeans pack so many essential nutrients. — AFP photo

IT is amazing – well, for me at least – that you can find so much information about beans on Google.

It started off as a search for a kind of bean, and amusingly enough, the TV comic character ‘Mr Bean’ was also included in the results!

There are also ‘fava’, which I have always called broad beans.

And do you know that the fashionable edamame beans are actually young soybeans?

Also, you have the ‘kacang ijo’ (mung beans), which produce ‘tauge’ (beansprouts), and cooking mung beans in thick coconut milk flavoured with palm sugar and pandan leaves would result in the delightfully sweet and ever-nostalgic ‘bubur kacang’.

There are many other types: soybeans, kidney beans, lima beans, red beans, green beans and black beans, long beans, sweet peas, snow peas, black-eye peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts – the list goes on!

These beans, together with peas and legumes, are classified under the Fabaceae family.

Majority of them are edible, each with its own texture and flavour, which also determine their usage in and the right method of cooking.

I am sure many of you are familiar with the sweet cool treats of ‘Ais Batu Campur’ or ‘Ais Kacang’, ‘Lai Chi Kang’ and ‘Ais Changlot’, which have sweet red or kidney beans in the mix.

‘Tauge’ is featured in many Asian dishes. —

So my apologies if this very statement may disappoint you, but with business being business, many traders do not really use these beans in their desserts.

Instead, they would use the cheaper soybeans and add in colouring to make them resemble the red beans.

The same goes with your favourite red bean ‘pau’ (steamed buns) – the sweet dark paste actually consists of coloured soybeans, not the authentic, but pricier, red beans.

Whatever the type, beans and legumes have many health benefits. Eating more of them can help control cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and encourage the growth of healthy gut bacteria.

Beans and legumes are rich sources of fibres, essential vitamins and minerals, and they are also plant-based proteins.

Take soybeans, where tofu is derived from. A regular cup (170gm) of cooked soybeans packs the following – protein fat, carbohydrates, fibres, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), folate (Vitamin B9) Vitamin K (fat-soluble), iron, manganese and phosphorus.

Soybeans also have the antioxidants that can help cancel out certain cancers, reduce the risk factors contributing to heart disease, and prevent bone density loss.

Peanuts are classified as legumes, and they contain lots of healthy monounsaturated fats – meaning, they are good for the heart.

Similar health properties are also contained in many varieties of beans, peas and legumes.

The fashionable edamame beans are actually whole, immature soybeans. —

Of course, with this being a gardening column, I am happy to say that planting beans and legumes is not very complicated. A decent-sized backyard – or even the front compound – should be alright.

Our weather and other conditions work well for many varieties. There are many seeds that you can purchase from your local green stores, plant nurseries or even our very own weekend markets, where I am sure that they also have the right types of fertilisers, top soil and other growth boosters available.

Firstly, choose a site that receives plenty of sunlight. Prepare the beds by tilling the soil and mixing into it compost and manure.

If you are using planter’s boxes, fill them with the soil-compost-manure mix.

Before planting, it is best to soak the seeds in a bowl of water overnight, as rehydration would better facilitate the sprouting.

Once this is done, dig a hole about five inches deep (the length of your longest finger, plus another half-length), add some nitrogen-based fertiliser in, then put in the seeds – two per hole, and cover it firmly.

Set up vine poles or lattice structure for the plant’s growth support. Water them regularly in the first few days. If it is the dry season, always make sure that the ground remains moist – this can be done by adding mulch around the plant’s base to retain the moisture.

If you had started off with pot-planting, the plant could be moved for field-planting after two to three weeks, depending on growth.

For pest control, look out for bean flies. Waterjet-spraying can knock off the aphids and mites, and in some cases, apply neem oil or white oil on the plant.

Beans also may suffer from plant rust, anthracnose (fungal diseases that typically cause dark lesions on leaves), infection from mosaic virus, and mildew.

For harvesting, beans and legumes are best picked when they are at the close-to-ripening stage, as they are much crunchier and less fibrous after cooking.

Happy Gardening!