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What are Red Beans?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Several different beans are referred to as red beans, which can sometimes become a bit confusing. In the West, common beans with a naturally red shell such as kidney beans and Honduran red beans are known by this term collectively. In Asia, azuki beans are called by this name, and the red rice bean is also sometimes known as a “small red bean.” All of these beans have very similar nutritional properties, so it's hardly the end of the world if they get confused.

In the sense of common beans which are naturally red, red beans come from a New World vine which was domesticated in Central and Southern America. Beans formed a crucial part of the Native American diet for centuries, and a number of cultivars were developed in different regions; one of the most popular dishes made with these beans is red beans and rice, a favorite in the American South.

In Asia, the azuki bean is much more readily available than the New World red bean. Azuki beans are widely eaten throughout China and Japan, and they are prepared in a variety of ways, ranging from sweet red bean paste used to fill desserts to fermented bean paste for seasoning. In addition to the naturally red azuki bean, people also eat red rice beans, which are much smaller, but viewed as beneficial in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Whatever variety of beans is under discussion, the beans are usually available in dried form. They need to be rinsed before cooking, to remove any detritus which might be leftover from the field, and they should ideally be soaked before cooking. Soaking cuts down on cooking time, and also helps the beans hold their shape, which can be useful in stews, where beans tend to fall apart if they are cooked too long. It is also advisable to cook beans until they are fully tender, because undercooked beans tend to create undesirable gastrointestinal effects.

You can grow red beans at home very easily. Beans thrive in many climates, with most garden supply stores carrying a variety of bean cultivars to choose from. To grow beans, you will need a sunny spot with well-drained soil and some support, such as stakes, a trellis, or even a network of taut strings. The beans should be started in the spring, after the last chance of frost is over. They may be eaten immature, at the green stage, or allowed to fully mature and dry on the vines; the dried bean pods can be picked and cracked open to extract the beans for storage.

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 anon1000532 — On Oct 13, 2018

The midwest is perfect place to grow beans. You buy the seed, plant them and harvest them in late fall (the pods will dry up -- that's how you know they are ready to harvest).

By anon143341 — On Jan 15, 2011

Answer to anon136575 - there is no cholesterol in beans. There is no cholesterol in any plant-based food. Cholesterol is only found in animal protein.

By anon137811 — On Dec 29, 2010

I bought red beans from the bulk section of Whole Foods. Soaking them, all the red came off, and they are a beige pink. Were they dyed, or is this what happens to a kind of red bean?

By anon136575 — On Dec 23, 2010

What is the cholesterol per 100 mg. of red beans?

By Charlie89 — On Aug 06, 2010

I think the classic of all classics when it comes to red beans is red beans and rice.

You can really mix it with just about any kind of meat, throw in a bunch of Cajun spices, and have a fantastic meal.

My personal favorite is dirty beans and rice with smoked sausage -- you just can't get better than that!

By anon79175 — On Apr 21, 2010

I have a question: can someone give me details on red beans like how they grow in cold or hot weather?

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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