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What is a Shell Bean?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 16, 2024
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A shell bean is any kind of bean that is grown and harvested for the seeds rather than the pods. Green beans, for example, are not considered a shell bean because they are harvested for their pods as well as for their seeds. Black beans and garbanzo beans — which are also sometimes called chick peas — are both examples of shell beans because the pod that the seeds grow in are discarded when the legumes are harvested and the seeds themselves are saved to be used in salads, soups, stews, dips, and any other number of dishes that call for the beans.

There are many different types of shell beans. Lima beans, butter beans, broad beans, fava beans, black beans, blackeyed peas, and many others are considered shell beans. The nearly endless varieties of these legumes can be used in myriad dishes from cuisines around the world.

The term "shell bean" is often used to refer to a bean that has been freshly removed from its pod. This means that the bean has not been canned or dried. Canned beans can usually be cooked in a manner that is similar to the ways in which shell beans can be cooked. However, the fresh beans and the beans that have been stored in a can will usually have a slightly different flavor. Beans that have been dried, on the other hand, may need to be soaked for up to 24 hours before they are hydrated enough to cook with and, even after this period of rehydration, may still be a bit more "al dente" than the fresh and canned versions of the same bean.

One unusual example of the shell bean is the green soy bean as it is prepared for edamame, which is a Japanese dish. Although the seed pod is not eaten, the entire bean, including the pod and the seeds, is cooked and served intact. The green soy beans are usually boiled or steamed and then served with a sprinkling of crushed sea salt. In order to eat edamame, the seed pod is squeezed between the teeth so that the seeds pop into the mouth and then the shell is discarded. This is a kind of shell bean where the shelling is done after the legumes have been cooked instead of before, which is the most common method.

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.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Jun 05, 2014

Mung beans are another type of shell bean. Mung beans are very popular in Asian cuisine. This is the type of bean that bean sprouts come from. It's cooked in different ways and eaten in India, China and other countries in Southeast Asia and the Far East. It's too bad that we don't eat more of this great shell bean.

Those who cook international dishes at home are familiar with this bean, but I don't think it's used in American cuisine at all. It's really nutritious and easy to cook with though. There are different varieties out there, but I mostly use the green variety.

By fify — On Jun 04, 2014

@donasmrs-- Both cranberry beans and cannellini beans are shell beans.

I have seen both types of beans fresh. But they are not eaten with the pods because the pods are thick and inedible. The fresh pods are opened up when the beans are large enough and the beans are removed. These are fresh beans and if they're dried, they become dry beans.

I'm not sure which beans can be consumed both fresh and dry. I only know of string beans. Almost everything else belongs in the shell bean category.

By donasmrs — On Jun 04, 2014

Are cranberry beans shell beans? And what about cannellini beans? As far as I know, some beans can be eaten both fresh and dried. Do these beans belong in this category?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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