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What are Black Beans?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Black, or turtle, beans are small roughly ovoid legumes with glossy black shells. The scientific name for black beans is Phaselous vulgaris, an epithet shared with many other popular bean varieties such as pinto beans, white beans, and kidney beans. These legumes are associated with Latin American cuisine in particular, although they can complement foods from many places. They are available in most grocery stores in dried and canned forms.

The history of black beans is ancient. They were first domesticated over 7,000 years ago in the region of South America now known as Peru. Since the beans grew readily in warm weather and preserved well, they quickly became an integral part of the South American diet. Other varieties of beans also entered cultivation during this period, with different people selecting for different bean traits. The ubiquitous food entered Europe when early explorers brought beans back with them in the 1500s.

Like other legumes, beans pack a serious nutritional punch. They are very high in fiber, folate, protein, antioxidants, and vitamin B, along with numerous other vitamins and minerals. When combined with whole grains such as brown rice, black beans make a complete protein, which is one of the reasons they are commonly included in a vegetarian diet. Since the beans are cheap to produce, they are an important part of a balanced diet for people of low income around the world.

The flavor of black beans is hearty and rich, and sometimes compared to mushrooms. The beans have to be cooked for an extended period of time before they are digestible, and they soften during the cooking stage. The black shells of the beans are retained through cooking, since they carry a lot of the flavor and nutritional value of the beans.

A warm climate with no risk of frost is required to grow black beans. The beans grow on vines, so it also helps to have trellises for the beans to climb as they grow. Typically, the beans are allowed to dry on the vine, and the vines are plowed back into the field for mulch at the end of the season. Beans are nitrogen fixers, so they enrich the soil that they are grown in. When stored in a cool dry place, dried black beans will keep for up to one year, or the beans can be cooked and canned for storage.

The black beans of Latin American should not be confused with douchi, or fermented black beans, a popular Asian food. Douchi is made with soybeans, a related but entirely different legume. The soybeans are heavily salted and allowed to ferment, creating an aromatic and intense concentrate. Many Asian markets carry douchi for inclusion in sauces and stir fries. The product is intended to be used in moderation, since it is formidably salty.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By amypollick — On May 10, 2012

@anon267656: Since it hasn't happened to you before you lived in Texas, I'm going to take a guess and say it could be something in the water, like a particular mineral, that is reacting chemically with the beans to turn them that color. Could be iron or something like that. You could test the theory by cooking them in bottled or distilled water and seeing what happens. But I'm betting it's something in the water.

By anon267656 — On May 10, 2012

In the last year and a half that I have been in Texas, my black beans turn out a purplish reddish color when cooked. This has never happened before. How do I retain the black color in the beans, especially when making it with rice.

Also, after soaking overnight the water is purple.

By anon147166 — On Jan 28, 2011

what's up with the purple water from dried black beans? rinsed and soaked the beans and still got purple dye and the meat that I cooked them with turned black. Help!

By anon128539 — On Nov 19, 2010

Another advantage of black beans is the high trace element content. For those with sulfite sensitivity, the molybdenum content of black beans has a strong detoxifying effect.

By anon128100 — On Nov 18, 2010

You might suggest to your readers to do six hours of soaking and discarding the soak water. Then cooking for up to 1 1/2 hours and again discarding the water will greatly reduce the level of indigestible sugars that cause the flatulence that generates so much of the "bad rap" beans have as a great source of dietary fiber and protein.

Also, do not add salt to cooking beans until just prior to serving, as salt keeps the little legumes from getting tender.

By Crispety — On Aug 01, 2010

Sunshine31- I agree with you. I love black beans. I usually buy the black refried beans and make a burrito out of it.

It is so filling and satisfying. I also use the black refried beans as a dip when I have company over. I usually serve it with a bag of Tostitos chips.

You can also make black beans salad by adding them to your current salad. It gives the salad a nice boost of protein and fiber.

By sunshine31 — On Aug 01, 2010

Subway11- I just wanted to add that Cuban black beans and rice is a staple to any Cuban dinner.

Usually Cuban cuisine calls for a meat entrée like steak or chicken, but is almost always followed up with a healthy portion of either kidney beans and rice or rice and black beans.

Much of the Caribbean cuisine also incorporates pork black beans with most lunch and dinner meals.

By subway11 — On Aug 01, 2010

Bestcity-I agree with you. I also want to say that black beans have a lot of health benefits. They are very high in fiber with almost 6 grams of fiber per serving.

Also, black beans tend to stabilize blood sugar which can reduce cravings and offer enhanced energy. Black beans are one of those magic foods that everyone should have in their diet.

By bestcity — On Dec 22, 2008

They are highest in antioxidants from any other colored bean.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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