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Food Focus: Cranberry Beans

January 29, 2006

Are these not the most beautiful beans you have ever seen? I was walking around the Manhattan Fruit Exchange at the Chelsea Markets when I came across these gorgeous beans. I was instantly intrigued and eager to learn more about them; so I gathered some in a bag, brought them home, and began my research.

I learned that these beautiful legumes, also known as Borlotti, were first cultivated in Mexico and Peru about 7,000 years ago. Then in the 16th century Spanish explorers brought the beans to Europe, and as a result, Cranberry Beans are now a common staple in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian cuisine.

Despite the fact that this bean is more common in southern European dishes, a large percentage of the beans are actually farmed in the US. Who knew? They are related to the Kidney Bean and in looks are similar to the Pinto Bean but reversed in color with pink skin and red specks. When cooked, magically the red specks disappear—how cool, but where do they go??? Their taste is described as having a creamy texture with a chestnut-like flavor and earthy tone.

Fresh Cranberry Beans might not be so easy to find, depending on the markets you have access to. They are most commonly found in farmers’ markets and specialty grocery stores. You may have an easier time finding them in the dried legume section of your grocery store.

From what I have read about these beans, they are traditionally served in soups or simply on their own with some olive oil and seasonings. Note that you must shell them—the pods are not edible!

Look out for my next post, which will be preparing the beans in the traditional Italian way…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Luisa permalink
    January 30, 2006 5:59 pm

    These really are delicious beans – my favorite actually. They turn brown and unassuming once cooked, but they taste lovely! Fresh they’re best, but you can buy pinto beans canned, which approximate borlottis, though only a little bit… 😉 can’t wait to see what you cook up!

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