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What are Pea Beans?

Anna T.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pea beans, which are also commonly referred to as navy beans, are white in color and usually no larger than a pea in size. They are actually the seeds of the common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris. Pea beans are considered very nutritious because they contain lots of soluble fiber and protein. Additionally, pea beans do not contain much cholesterol or fat, so they tend to be a recommended diet food. These beans probably originated in South America, and they likely became popular throughout the rest of the world around the 15th century.

It is considered best to wait until there is no danger of frost before planting pea beans. Preparing the ground typically involves working in a 5-10-10 fertilizer to about an 8-inch (20-cm) depth prior to planting. The beans should normally be buried at least 1.5 inches (4 cm) in the ground and spaced about 4 inches (10 cm) apart. These beans produce flowers during spring or summer, and it may be necessary to add a 33-0-0 fertilizer to the plant at that time. Once the pea bean plant has dried out completely, which usually happens in late September, the beans are ready to harvest.

There are many different uses for navy beans in recipes. They are a very popular addition in many soups, dips, and are occasionally even used in barbecue recipes. Before cooking, it is typically recommended to sort through the beans and throw away the ones that are misshapen or have an odd color. Pea beans should be rinsed prior to cooking, and it normally takes about one to two hours of boiling these beans in water before they become soft. Some people let the beans soak in water overnight before cooking so that preparation time will be faster on cooking day.

Historically, pea beans were a very popular staple for sailors and other people who traveled on ships. This is probably because they tend to be very easy to store and almost never spoil. When these beans are kept under the right conditions, they could last for an indefinite amount of time. The main concern with storing pea beans or any other type of bean for extended periods of time is that stored beans are at great risk for insect infestation and tend to take longer to soften up during cooking. This is why it is very important to store all types of beans in an airtight container.

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.
Anna T.
By Anna T.
Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to DelightedCooking. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.

Discussion Comments

By aishia — On Sep 07, 2011

@SkittisH and VivAnne - Based on the article's description of the beans being ready to harvest as soon as the plant has dried out entirely, I'd assume you harvest pea beans when they're dried out naturally. That means you might prepare pea beans the same way you always do -- re-hydrating the dried ones, then boiling to cook them.

Hope that helps!

By VivAnne — On Sep 06, 2011

Are these beans bush beans or vines? The article says how deep to plant them and what time of year, but I need to know whether to add a trellis to my garden plans for spring. I'm actually not a big fan of navy bean soup, but I love bean salads, so I think growing myself a crop of pea beans would be great.

I'm also curious to see anybody's answer to SkittisH's (not stupid) question about how to cook fresh pea beans for recipes that call for the dried then re-hydrated then boiled ones instead. I've only ever made pea bean salad using the dried kind, which always have to be re-hydrated with water and then boiled and cooled and even rinsed before I can add them to the salad.

By SkittisH — On Sep 05, 2011

This is probably a stupid question, but I really don't know, so maybe somebody can help me out here.

If you grow your own pea beans, how do you prepare them? The only recipes I have ever seen for navy/pea beans always, always ask for the hardened, dried navy beans they sell in stores.

Obviously if the pea beans are fresh, you don't need to soak them in water to re-hydrate them, and they will cook entirely differently. Does anybody cook navy bean soup with fresh pea beans, or do you always dry them first?

By gimbell — On Sep 04, 2011

I always wondered why they called pea beans navy beans, so this article was a good read. Pea beans are really mild beans that make good soup.

Navy bean soup with ham is a pretty common recipe here in the United States -- you would never hear it called "pea bean soup", nobody would have a clue what you were talking about. Aren't naming conventions funny? They operate on force of habit for people to end up calling something a nickname and forgetting its real name entirely.

Anyway, growing up my mom would make pea bean soup all the time. Since she is an avid gardener, and I'll admit a real perfectionist, she always called pea beans by their proper name, so I didn't hear the name "navy bean soup" until high school when a friend tried mom's soup and called it that.

Anna T.

Anna T.

Anna Thurman is a skilled writer who lends her talents to DelightedCooking. Her ability to research and present information in an engaging and accessible manner allows her to create content that resonates with readers across a wide range of subjects.
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