Navy beans are pea sized white beans which can be used in a variety of dishes. These very common beans are known by a variety of alternate names, including haricot beans, Boston beans, pea beans, and Yankee beans, and they are closely related to larger white beans such as Great Northern and cannelloni beans. Most markets carry navy beans, typically in both dried and canned form, and they are also very easy to grow in the garden, if you have a little bit of room.
Beans have been cultivated in many regions of the world for centuries, and white beans are among the most basic of bean varieties. This food happens to be extremely nutritious, being typically high in both protein and fiber, and beans often have large amounts of trace minerals such as magnesium, as well, making them an excellent dietary supplement. Bean plants are also good for the garden, since they are nitrogen fixers, meaning that they will improve the condition of the soil they are grown in.
The flavor of navy beans is fairly mild, and the texture tends to be rather dense. The common name “navy bean” is a reference to the fact that the beans were once widely included among the staple supplies of the United States Navy, since dried beans do not go bad, and they provide an excellent source of nutrition. Many classic American bean dishes call for these beans as a result, since they were so widespread and well known; Boston baked beans, for example, are made with them.
If you purchase navy beans in a can, they should be rinsed before use. Ideally you should tip the beans out into a colander and run cool water over them for a minute or two before throwing them into a recipe. Canned beans are ready to use; they need only be heated through to be eaten, although a little bit of slow stewing won't hurt them. If you buy dried beans of any kind, you will need to rinse them and pick through them for stones and small pieces of bean stalk, and they should ideally be soaked overnight and rinsed again before they are cooked. Depending on the cooking technique you use, the dried beans will take several hours to cook after rinsing and soaking.
If you want to grow navy beans in your garden, look for a sheltered sunny spot and amend the soil with a little bit of compost and mulch before planting bean seeds or starters; if you live in a colder area, you may want to start bean plants indoors in the early spring and then move them outside after the last chance of frost has passed. Stake the bean plants as they grow, encouraging them to lift their vines after the ground to prevent rot. You can harvest the beans when they are green to be used whole as green beans, or you can let the plants die off and dry out at the end of the summer and then collect the dried beans for storage.