Broad beans are Believed to of originated in the Mediterranean and now grown in temperate regions across the globe. They have been an important staple for millennia as shown by archaeological findings at iron and Bronze Age settlements. Types of vetch, broad beans have the Latin name vicia faba, and are related to alfalfa and peas. Being a nitrogen fixing plant, they are perfect for enriching the soil in which they are planted.
Cultivated broad beans commonly fall into two classes; Windsor and Longpod. Windsor varieties have four or five beans per pod and considered to have a finer flavour. In comparison, Longpod are more durable to different climates and contain eight beans per pod.
Broads can be simply boiled, buttered and served however, they are much more versatile having a particular affinity to pork- based meat dishes including pancetta, bacon and chorizo. Popular in Spain, Habas fritas which is roasted or deep fried broads are a deliciously addictive bar snack.
A known food crop for well over 2,000 years, runner beans are native to cool, high-altitude regions of Central America. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the vegetable was brought to the British Isles as a decorative plant by a gardener to King Charles I called John Tradescant before being used as a food staple in Britain. The variety, Phaseolus coccineus has long been the favourite due to its fast growing nature and beautiful flowers however; most of the beans grown in the UK for commercial use are Scarlet runners.
Pods are usually green in colour however, there are a few very rare varieties with purple pods which have been bred by amateur gardeners such as the Aeron Purple Star. Other names for runners include Oregon lima bean.
Runners can be stir-fried, boiled or steamed and are best cooked until on the soft side of al dente for maximum flavour. Like all beans, runners contain a toxic protein called phytohaemagglutinin so should be cooked before consumtion. The well pert- well coloured pods that snap with a crunch easily revealing a juicy and fresh inside are the tastiest. For best results, they should be washed, topped and tailed and the stringy bits running up both sides should be removed before cooking.