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What are Madagascar Beans?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Madagascar beans can potentially refer to two very different types of food products. When used simply as “Madagascar bean,” it typically refers to a type of lima bean that is often grown in tropical regions and enjoyed in preparing a number of different dishes. It can also be used to refer to Madagascar vanilla beans that are used to produce more than half of the vanilla consumed throughout the world. Madagascar beans, in either context, are quite delicious and both are typically grown as vines along a trellis, tree, or other supportive structure.

The savory type of Madagascar beans are a type of lima bean that may be eaten raw when green or allowed to dry and enjoyed in soups and similar dishes. Also known as Phaseolus lunatus, Madagascar beans grow as a perennial vine and typically are allowed to grow along a supportive structure. This usually consists of a trellis that will provide the vine with support, but will not obstruct sunlight or water from reaching the plant.

Dried Madagascar vanilla beans.
Dried Madagascar vanilla beans.

While still green, these Madagascar beans can be harvested and enjoyed raw or lightly steamed. The pods should not be eaten, but the beans within are green, tender, and slightly creamy when chewed. They can also be allowed to dry out on the vine. When they do, they become a dark red with white spots on them. These dried beans are typically perfect for storage, either at room temperature or frozen, and can be used in soups, stews, and any other dish that calls for dried beans.

Making vanilla extract requires an alcohol such as vodka.
Making vanilla extract requires an alcohol such as vodka.

The other type of Madagascar beans often referred to are Madagascar vanilla beans that are sweet and used in everything from desserts and pastries to scented candles and body lotions. Though originally from Mexico and similar regions, the most popular variety of vanilla, Vanilla planifolia, is now principally grown and harvested in Madagascar. It is actually a type of orchid and produces a fruit or bean that is harvested to produce raw vanilla beans or vanilla extract.

Like Madagascar beans, rattlesnake beans are popular in stews.
Like Madagascar beans, rattlesnake beans are popular in stews.

These Madagascar beans typically come in a raw state as a long, thin pod that has been dried out for easier transport and use. To use the raw vanilla, the pod should be split open with a sharp knife. The small vanilla beans within can be scraped out and used in cooking. They will typically appear as tiny black specks in the finished dish and are quite noticeable in vanilla ice cream that uses real vanilla bean. Liquid vanilla extract can also be made quite easily by soaking the pods in ethyl alcohol, such as vodka, for a period of time, then straining the liquid.

Discussion Comments


I've grown Madagascar beans for 40 years. They are best before they're dry -- still green, but it is important if cooked to do it in two stages.

First, in plenty of water, bring them to a boil, then switch off the heat and leave them covered for 5 minutes. For the second stage, bring a second pot of water to the boil while the beans are sitting for five minutes. Drain off the first water, then put the boiling water into the pot. Add some salt, bring to a boil and switch off. Leave covered for 10-15 minutes, then drain them. This is the way to get rid of as much tannin as possible. They are delicious beans but lot of people complain about intestinal pain if they not cooked properly, as tannin shrinks intestines and does not let gases pass through.

It is similar to black tea which gives pain under the rib cage on each side. With dry beans, you may have to change the water three times. I do not cook dry ones. I freeze green ones without any blanching or preparation and when you cook them you will not notice that they have been frozen.

These beans are mentioned in the time of Sodom and Gomorrah. The chosen people were warned to eat these beans for three months before leaving these two ancient towns to protect them from radiation. During excavations they have found lot of nuclear explosion traces. I'm in the sun all day, almost nude, eating these beans regularly, and don't get sunburned.

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    • Dried Madagascar vanilla beans.
      By: Picture Partners
      Dried Madagascar vanilla beans.
    • Making vanilla extract requires an alcohol such as vodka.
      By: dla4
      Making vanilla extract requires an alcohol such as vodka.
    • Like Madagascar beans, rattlesnake beans are popular in stews.
      By: Elena Schweitzer
      Like Madagascar beans, rattlesnake beans are popular in stews.