People may react to them in the same way they do to other not-so-popular foods like liver, anchovies, or tofu. Perhaps that's due to the blah, grainy texture of the canned lima beans they've eaten in the past. Or more likely, pushed around the plate to avoid eating. Fortunately, all limas are not the same. They can be delicious, and they're also nutritional all-stars that definitely deserve a little more respect (cue Aretha Franklin).
Beautiful jars of beans
As a child, I spent some warm summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch helping her shell mounds of freshly picked beans and peas for canning. I can still hear the sounds of the jar lids popping in her kitchen as they cooled and sealed. Then the jars of colorful legumes, vegetables, and fruits were moved to rows of shelves in the cool basement cellar. My grandfather was a farmer who grew the best tomatoes I've ever tasted, and his vegetable harvests were plentiful. As a result, there were more than enough jars of lima beans to last all winter and well into the next year.
These delicious beans go by a number of different names. In the South, they're almost always called butter beans. Other common names are pocketbook beans and mule ears. In Peru where they originated, they're known as chad beans. But whether they are green, white, speckled, cream-colored, dried, fresh, and no matter what they're called, they are all varieties of the lima bean (Phaseolus lunatus).
A superfood with a big caveat
Although they're called a superfood, lima beans do contain cyanide compounds. As a result, many countries, including the United States, only allow the sale of commercial varieties with very low cyanogen levels. Lima beans grown in Burma and Java can have 20 to 30 times the amount of cyanide currently allowed in most Western countries. Limas must be cooked thoroughly to allow the hydrogen cyanide gas to dissipate in order for the beans to be considered safe for human consumption.
They're actually quite popular
Green baby lima beans are very popular in the Americas. The beans are medium-sized flat beans with a greenish-white color, buttery flavor, and creamy texture. The baby variety is also much loved in Japan where it's used for making anko desserts from bean paste.
Fresh lima beans can be difficult to find in the United States, but are sometimes available at farmers' markets. It's easier to find them in the southern United States than in any other part of the country. The majority of lima beans are purchased either dried, canned, or frozen.
Bush or pole
Lima beans have been cultivated for approximately 6,000 years. Discovered in Peru and Guatemala by the Spaniards, during the 15th Century the beans arrived in Europe. Today, varieties are identified as either bush or pole types. Bush varieties grow faster than pole varieties. Some of the more common bush beans are 'Eastland', 'Dixie Butterpea' and 'Jackson Wonder'. Some of the more common pole varieties are 'Speckled Calico', 'Big Mama' and 'King of the Garden'.
Origin of the national day
There's not much known about the origins of National Lima Bean Day or when it was first celebrated. It was most likely invented by someone who relished lima beans or someone who considered the nutritional value of limas too important to be ignored.
The famous poem
When Frankenstein Was Just A Kid
When Frankenstein was just a kid, he ate his greens. It’s true. He did!
He ate his spinach, salads, peas,
asparagus, and foods like these,
and with each leaf and lima bean
his skin became a bit more green.
On chives and chard he loved to chew,
and Brussels sprouts and peppers too,
until he ate that fateful bean
that turned his skin completely green.
He turned all green, and stayed that way,
and now he frightens folks away.
Poor Frankenstein, his tale is sad,
but things need not have been so bad.
It’s fair to say, if only he
had eaten much less celery,
avoided cabbage, ate no kale,
why, then, we’d have a different tale.
So, mom and dad, I’m here to say
please take these vegetables away
or my fate could be just as grim.
Yes, I could end up green like him.
So, mom and dad, before we dine,
please give a thought to Frankenstein.
~ Kenn Nesbitt