What Are Fava Beans?

Fava beans are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world.
Fava beans are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world. (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of thebittenword.com)

Fava beans are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world. But they’re virtually unheard of at the American dinner table. Their unique, nutty texture makes a perfect match for Mediterranean cuisine, and as this style of eating grows in popularity, the fava bean is being used more often in the West. The fava bean is very versatile and can be used in virtually any way other legumes are prepared and eaten.


Fava beans aren’t actually beans. They are peas of the plant Vicia faba and grow in a pod. Once removed from the pod, though, they resemble lima beans in shape and size. They are also known as broad beans, horse beans, field beans, bell beans or tic beans.


It is believed that fava beans were cultivated in the eastern Mediterranean in the year 6000 B.C. or earlier. They remained an important staple food from Britain to China until trade with the Americas saw them widely replaced by other legumes in some countries.


Fava beans are a significant source of protein and carbohydrates. A one-cup serving contains 13 grams of protein and 9 grams of dietary fiber. They also contain a significant level of iron and calcium.


The rich, buttery and nutty taste of fava beans makes them an excellent complement for meats, fish, cheese and other vegetables. In many cultures, fava beans are eaten alone either boiled or fried.


Traditionally, fava beans are boiled until soft. Afterward they can be added to salads, made into a spread or served as a side. Raw fava beans can also be grilled in their pods and topped with a little olive oil, salt, red pepper flakes and lemon zest.

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