Lima Beans

Phaseolus lunatus

Herbs gallery - Lima Beans

Lima beans are a New World food and they derived their name from Lima, Peru. It has been found that these beans were grown in this part of the world since 1500. Lima beans are available in two separate varieties, which include the baby lima and the Fordhook lima, which are different from adult baby limas. Both these varieties of limas have a light green hue, are fleshy and somewhat kidney shaped. Compared to the baby limas, the Fordhook limas are larger, fleshier and more richly flavoured. Fresh limas are available in the market during the period between June and September.

Normally, lima beans are marketed in their pods. A good lima bean pod ought to be fleshy, firm and have a dark green color. If you store the pods in plastic bags and refrigerate the bags, they will remain viable for up to a week. Before you use them, you should shell the pods. You can purchase frozen lima beans throughout the year and label them according to their variety - baby limas or Fordhook limas. Dried and canned limas are generally labelled as "small", "large", and "jumbo". People in the South often refer to lima beans as "butter beans". When the lima beans are mottled with purple, these beans are known as speckled butter beans or calico.

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Traditionally, lima beans are served with sweet corn in a preparation called succotash. In addition, lima beans are also used separately in the form of a side dish. They are also used in soups and, occasionally, added to salads. Lima beans are loaded with various nutrients, including protein, potassium, phosphorus and iron. Often, the lima beans are also referred to as the Madagascar bean.

Precisely speaking, lima beans (scientific name Phaseolus lunatus) are a variety of legume having their origin in South America. These beans are available in two sizes. While it is believed that the relatively larger lima beans are native to the Andes, since long people have been growing the smaller variety in various other regions of Mesoamerica.

Apart from being available in two different sizes, lima beans have many cultivars and each of them may come with a characteristic coloration pattern. Normally, the color of lima beans varies from creamy white to green. They have a starch-like flavour along with a tinge of smooth richness. Dried beans are available in most of the markets. These days you may also find them in several shops. When the lima beans are in season, you can find fresh beans at various farmers' markets. In fact, you should give them a try, because they are really worth it. People residing in the temperate climatic zones can also try and grow these plants in their gardens or kitchen backyards.

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The history of domestication of lima beans is somewhat unclear. There is no doubt that these beans have been in existence since long and they also have their origin in South America prior to moving northwards. When the first European settlers arrived in the Americas, they found that the natives of the region were already cultivating lima beans along with other legumes, which comprised a vital part of their regular diets. There is no doubt that lima beans were the first products that the early European settlers in Americas sent back home. Soon, these beans became somewhat popular among the Europeans. This is something different from tomatoes, which endured several decades of disrepute before the Europeans finally accepted them as a food.

In culinary, lima beans can be utilized in the same way as you use other beans. In fact, lima beans can be used in an assortment of dishes, such as stews and soups. In addition, you can also puree lima beans to prepare a bean spread or add them to salads and chili. Lima beans go well with a wide variety of foods. Moreover, they can be enjoyed just plain.

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Subject to the cultivar being used, lima bean plants can grow as a bush or even in the form of a vine, which will require trellising. These plants have a tendency to grow fast and mature quickly. In fact, many gardeners prefer delaying their plantings with a view to extend the period for which they can avail the fresh beans. Temperate climatic conditions are most suited for the optimal growth of these plants. Ideally, you should plant lima beans after the soggy, cold weather has passed, because damp conditions can slow down the growth of these plants. In places which have somewhat cold springs, you need to grow the seedlings in a greenhouse and plant them outdoors later when the climatic conditions are favourable for them.

Similar to all other beans, lima beans also prefer some space to grow well. In addition, you need to stake them so that there is no risk of the pods coming in contact with the ground below and rotting. Once the pods have grown sufficiently large, you can harvest the fresh beans any time you wish. Alternatively, you can also allow the branches to dry to obtain dry beans and store them for use at a later time. However, you should know that some beans may develop harmful cyanide compounds. Therefore, be cautious and ensure that you cook them properly prior to consuming them.

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Health benefits

Consumption of lima beans has several advantages. They contain elevated levels of soluble dietary fiber, which is useful in soaking up water inside the stomach to produce a gel that slows the pace of metabolism of the carbohydrates present in these beans. In this way, consumption of lima beans helps to prevent the glucose levels in the blood from rising rapidly following a meal. The proteins present in lima beans that slow the absorption of carbohydrates are very useful for people who are enduring diabetes, hypoglycemia or insulin resistance. Hence, it is advisable that such people should incorporate lima beans in their regular diet.

Sulfites are a common preservative that is generally added to prepared foods with a view to prolong their viability. Such foods include salad bars and delicatessen salads. Lima beans contain high amounts of the mineral molybdenum, which is a vital constituent of the enzyme called sulfite oxidase. This enzyme works to detoxify sulfites in our body. It has been found that people having allergic reactions to sulfites occasionally suffer from headaches, very fast heartbeat or stupefaction when they consume foods containing this preservative. Consuming just one cup of lima beans daily will be beneficial for such people, as it will prevent the occurrence of such bothersome symptoms associated with sulfite consumption.

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Findings of several studies have demonstrated that the insoluble fiber present in lima beans is useful for increasing stool bulk as well as preventing constipation. At the same time, the dietary fiber helps to put off occurrences of various types of digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). When the dietary fiber is fermented inside the large intestine, it aids in maintaining the health as well as veracity of the colon by promoting the development and growth of beneficial bacteria. Aside from turning out the essential short-chain fatty acids, these friendly or beneficial bacteria also perform a vital role in our immune system, as they prevent the bacteria responsible for various diseases from thriving in the intestinal tract. In fact, all types of dietary fiber assist in sustaining a healthy bowel movement by augmenting the mass or volume of feces and, at the same time, reducing the time taken by the fecal matter to pass through the intestines and eventually get out of our body. In addition, bowel regularity is also related to lesser risks of developing colon cancer.

The cholesterol-lowering properties of lima beans are mainly attributed to its rich dietary fiber content. Fiber attaches of bile acids inside the stomach and prevent them from producing cholesterol. When dietary fiber exits our body, it carries along the bile acids, thereby preventing them from building up cholesterol in the blood stream.

Aside from dietary fiber, lima beans are also rich in folate and magnesium content. It has been found that folate is effective in regulating as well as lowering the levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in our body. When the levels of homocysteine are elevated it increases the risks of stroke or heart attack as well as peripheral vascular diseases. In addition, the elevated amounts of magnesium in lima beans may also help to keep the cardiovascular system healthier. When the body has sufficient amount of magnesium, it helps the arteries and veins to relax, reduce the resistance and, at the same time, promote blood circulation, flow of oxygen and transportation of nutriments to all areas of our body. Findings of many studies have revealed that the heart may be injured by harmful free radicals immediately following a heart attack owing to magnesium deficiency.

Lima beans also contain significant amounts of slow-burning complex carbohydrates and, hence, have the potential to enhance the storage of iron in the body. In fact, lima beans are a better source of iron, compared to red meat, because these beans contain very few calories and are virtually free from fat. Iron is vital for hemoglobin production, which carries oxygen from our lungs to various parts of the body. In addition, iron is also essential for energy production as well as metabolism. Apart from pregnant and menstruating women, even adolescents and people suffering from anemia require intake of more iron.

The essential mineral magnesium present in lima beans is a vital nutrient that is necessary for several enzymes to produce energy required by the body to carry out the various functions properly. If you want to reduce consumption of meat, it is advisable that you can instead consume lima beans, which are an excellent source of proteins. When lima beans are taken together with whole grains, the level of protein offered by them is equal to that obtained from meat or dairy products. The advantage of consuming lima beans and whole grains is that they do not contain very high calories or saturated fats, unlike meat or dairy products.

Lima beans contain adequate amounts of vital minerals like calcium and manganese; in lima beans they work in tandem to ensure that the bones are strong. In addition, presence of other essential trace minerals helps lima beans to fight osteoporosis or bone loss.

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