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Fava beans nutrition facts

Fava beans (broad beans in the UK) are large, flat, light green pods usually eaten shelled for their delicious beans. Fava are one of the ancient cultivated crops probably originated in the fertile valleys of Asia Minor or Mediterranean region. Unlike in green beans, where whole immature pods can be eaten, broad beans possess thick indigestible peel that generally shelled to extract their broad, thick, and flat seeds (beans) inside.

Binomially, fava pods belong to the Fabaceae family, in the genus: Vicia. Scientific name: Vicia faba. Generally used as vegetables, they are one of the popular bean types that can be grown easily in the home gardens.

fava beans
Fava bean pods.
Photo courtesy: Greensteps.

Fava bean is one of the ancient cultivated cool season vegetables. The plant is a small annual glabrous herb with erect stem growing to the height of up to 6 feet. Pink-white flowers appear in clusters after about three months after seedling. Honeybees play a role as pollinators. Light green, beaded fruit pods which develop out of these flowers hold about 6-10 flat, broad, irregularly oval-shaped beans inside.

Health benefits of fava beans

  • Fava beans are very high in protein, and energy as in other beans and lentils. 100 g beans carry 341 calories per 100 g. The beans, however, compose plentiful of health benefiting antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and plant-sterols.

  • The beans are very rich source of dietary fiber (66% per100g RDA) which acts as a bulk laxative. Dietary fiber helps to protect the colon mucosa by decreasing its exposure time to toxic substances as well as by binding to cancer-causing chemicals in the colon. Dietary fiber has also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels by decreasing re-absorption of cholesterol binding bile acids in the colon.

  • Broad beans are rich in phyto-nutrients such as isoflavone and plant-sterols. Isoflavone such as genistein and daidzein have been found to protect breast cancer in laboratory animals. Phytosterols, especially ß-sitosterol, help lower cholesterol levels in the body.

  • Fava beans contain Levo-dopa or L-dopa, a precursor of neuro-chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. Dopamine in the brain is associated with smooth functioning of body movements. Thus, consumption of adequate amounts of fava beans in everyday diet may help prevent Parkinson's disease and dopamine responsive dystonia disorders. (Medical disclaimer).
  • Fresh fava beans are an excellent source of folates. 100 g beans provide 423 µg or 106% of folates. Folate along with vitamin B-12 is one of the essential components of DNA synthesis and cell division. Adequate folate in the diet around conception, and during pregnancy may help prevent neural-tube defects in the newborn baby.

  • They also contain good amounts of vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin (vitamin B-1), riboflavin and niacin. These vitamins function as co-enzymes in cellular metabolism of carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

  • In addition, broad beans are one of the fine sources of minerals like iron, copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium. At 1062 mg or 23% of daily recommended levels, fava are one of the highest plant sources of potassium. Potassium is an important electrolyte of cell and body fluids. It helps counter pressing effects of sodium on heart and blood pressure.

Selection and storage

As in green peas, fava too are winter season crops. They can be easily grown in the home garden. Beans from tender, green pods are preferred as vegetables over fully mature pods. Dry pods, however may be used as dry beans or split lentils. Small, very immature pods can be eaten with skin like in green-beans. Usually, however, the pods are shelled, and their seeds used in cooking.

In the markets, fresh fava beans can be available from March until June. Canned, frozen, dry, as well as salted and roasted beans also made available in the stores.

While buying, look for fresh, just mature, even shaped, green color beans. Avoid yellow pods as they may indicate overmature, dry, and bitter seeds.

Once at home, place unshelled beans in a perforated plastic bag and store inside the refrigerator set at high relative humidity. They stay well for up to a week or so. Use them soon after harvest in order to enjoy their rich natural flavor.

Preparation and serving methods

Fresh broad beans are easy to cook and truly delicious. Gently cooked, tender beans have a wonderful “beany” flavor that melts like butter in the mouth. Dried beans generally soaked in water to turn them soft and to remove any bitter anti-nutritional compounds.

broad beans
Shelled broad beans.
Photo courtesy: wordridden

To prepare, wash the beans in cold running water. Refrigerated beans need to be dipped briefly in room-temperature water to help them regain original flavor. To shell, snap its stem end towards string side and pull all along the length of the bean to remove the string. Split open and remove the beans with the help of fingertips (thumb). Drop them into boiling salted water for about 1 minute. Drain water and plunge them in ice water.

Usually; whole broad beans employed in cooking. You may also remove the husk (thin coat around the bean) to pop out bright green cotyledons inside, which are then used in cooking.

Here are some serving tips:

broad beans and peas risotto
Broad beans and peas risotto.
Photo courtesy: Blue moon in her eyes.
  • Broad beans are one of versatile vegetables. They make delicious recipes in stews, soups, and stir-fries along with spices, herbs, rice, semolina, peas, carrot, onion, tomato, lamb, poultry, and seafood.

  • In the North African and Middle Eastern cuisine, boiled couscous (semolina) is served with broad beans and other vegetable stew.

  • <>Ful medammis, an Egyptian mashed fava bean stew topped with parsley, is served with bread for breakfast.

  • Spicy broad bean stew served with bread, beyssara, is the Moroccan favorite breakfast.

  • Dried favabean lentils used in stew with tomato, onion, and spices is a popular Greek recipe.

Safety profile

Favism is a genetic condition affecting small population with G-6PD (Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) enzyme deficiency, compromising oxygen-carrying capacity in their blood. The condition is triggered in these individuals on eating fava beans or its products in the diet as well as by some drugs and infections. Prevention mainly includes avoidance of any of these triggering factors, and treatment of acute blood cell lyses.

Like other class beans and some Brassica group vegetables, fava too contain oxalic acid, a naturally-occurring substance found in some vegetables, which, may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. It is, therefore, people with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised against eating vegetables belong to Brassica and Fabaceae family. Adequate intake of water is therefore advised to maintain normal urine output to minimize the stone risk. (Medical disclaimer).

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Further reading:

1. Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.

2. USDA National Nutrient database.

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