Lima beans are large, flat, off-white, kidney-shaped edible seeds in the bean family. They usually eaten shelled for their delicious beans just as in fava beans. In line with other major beans, lima too is one of the ancient cultivated crops.
Lima pods are believed to be originated in the tropical fertile valleys of Central America as wild cultivars and domesticated by native Mayans, Aztecs and later by the Incas as a valuable source of protein.
Binomially, lima pod belongs to the Fabaceae family, in the genus: Phaseolus.
Scientific name: Phaseolus lunatus L.
|Lima bean pods.
Photo courtesy: kthread.
Lima beans are perennial, glabrous herbs, generally grown as an annual crop. There exist two types of seed variations, big and small that evolved from two distinct genetic make-ups. Varieties can be grown either as a bush or as a vine (pole) which requires trellising. In general, bush beans those yield small seeds often recognized as the sieve or baby lima or butter beans. Whereas, vine or pole varieties are large seeds and categorized as lima beans. While small seeds measure 3 x 2 cm in dimension, large lima beans measure 4 x 2.5 cm. Both these types, however, feature same buttery texture and sweet flavor.
Bush type beans generally feature smaller and shorter yield on comparison to pole types. Fresh green, "small lima" is ready for harvest in 65-80 days after seedling. "Large lima" takes little longer to mature and can be harvested in 80-90 days after seedling. Harvesting is not time guided; some farmers prefer collection once the pods grow large enough and sell green in the markets. Others, however, allow the pods dry on the plant itself for the purpose of obtaining dry beans.
Lima beans are important sources of plant proteins. 100 g seeds carry 338 calories and provide 21.46 g or 38% of daily recommended intake of protein. Also, they are a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and plant sterols.
They, fresh or dried, contain substantial amounts of dietary fiber (50% per100g RDA). Dietary fiber functions as a bulk laxative that 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 reabsorption of cholesterol binding bile acids in the colon.
Unlike in soybeans, lima contain little amounts of isoflavones. Isoflavones such as genistein and daidzein have been found to protect breast cancer in laboratory animals. However, they possess plant sterols (phytosterols) especially ß-sitosterol that help lower cholesterol levels in the body.
Fresh, as well as dry lima, are an excellent source of folates. 100 g dry, mature beans provide 395 µg or 99% of folates. Folate, along with vitamin B-12, is one of the essential co-factor for 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.
Lima (and butter beans) are very rich sources of many B-complex vitamins, especially vitamin-B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin (vitamin B-1), pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and niacin. Most of these vitamins functions as co-enzymes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism.
Furthermore, lima, and butter beans are one of the excellent sources of minerals like molybdenum, iron, copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium. They hold (1724 mg) more potassium than red kidney beans (1,359 mg), broad beans (1,062 mg), black beans (1483 mg). Potassium is essential electrolyte of cell and body fluids. It helps counter pressing effects of sodium on heart and blood pressure. The human body uses manganese as as a cofactor for the important antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||0.69 g||3.5%|
|Dietary Fiber||19 g||50%|
|Pantothenic acid||1.355 mg||27.1%|
|Vitamin A||0 IU||0%|
|Vitamin C||0 mg||0%|
|Vitamin E||0.72 mg||5%|
|Vitamin K||6 µg||5%|
Lima beans come in several forms; fresh, dried, small (baby beans), large, and in a variety of distinctive color patterns. In the US markets, fresh green lima hit the market by July. Fresh-frozen, dried, canned, or roasted beans can also be readily available in the store across the US.
While buying fresh lima pods from the local vegetable markets, look for green, just mature, plump, and firm pods. You may also purchase fresh or frozen beans from the grocery. Avoid sunken, shriveled pods as the beans convert their sugars into starch. Similarly, dried or canned beans lack sweet flavor as they deficient in vitamin-C and simple sugars. While fresh tender lima beans feature smooth, pale green color, their color changes to white or cream-yellow once they dry.
Once at home, store unshelled beans in a perforated plastic bag and place in the refrigerator set at high relative humidity. They stay well for up to a week or so. To enjoy, however, use them soon after the harvest.
Store dry beans in a cool, dry place placed in containers away from high temperatures and high humidity.
Fresh lima beans are richly flavorful once cooked. As in other beans like edamame, broad (fava), etc., they too have wonderful “beany” flavor that melts like cream inside the mouth.
Dry lima beans generally soaked in water for at least 5 hours to make them tender. Soaking also helps remove any anti-nutritional compounds.
|Lima bean tuna salad.
Photo courtesy: stone-soup
To prepare, wash fresh green lima pods in cold running water. Refrigerated beans need to be dipped briefly in room temperature water to help them regain original flavor. To shell, snap the calyx end towards midrib and pull all along the suture line of the pod to remove the string. Split open and remove beans. Drop them into boiling salted water for 1 minute. Drain the water and plunge them into ice water. Beans along with the seed coat can be used in cooking. You may also wish to discard its seed coat (thin cover around the bean), to pop out underlying bright green cotyledons, which are then employed in cooking.
Here are some serving tips:
Photo courtesy: Mstwinkie
Fresh, pale green lima beans generally treated like vegetables. They usually used in a wide range of dishes including soups, salads, stir-fries, stews, and casseroles.
Butter beans (small lima) may be added as a replacement to cannellini beans to prepare favorite Tuscan bean soup.
Succotash is a traditional Thanksgiving dish in North America made with beans, corn, peppers, and ground beef.
Eating raw or sprouted lima beans may cause stomach cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting. Additionally, eating large quantities of undercooked beans release of cyanide (from cyanogenic glucosides), which can impair tissue oxygenation and cause severe illness.
Like in other class of beans and some brassica group vegetables, lima beans also contain oxalic acid, a naturally occurring substance found in some vegetables, which, may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people. Therefore, individuals with known oxalate urinary tract stones are advised against eating vegetables belong to brassica and Fabaceae family. Adequate intake of water is encouraged to maintain normal urine output to minimize stone formation risk. (Medical disclaimer)
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Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.
UC Davis, Vegetable Research and information center- Phaseolus limensis.-PDF.