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Beans have been cultivated for over 8,000 years in Central and South America, and they were immediately adopted by Spanish “conquistadors” who valued their easy transport and storage, as well as the fact that they are highly nutritious. From Europe, these legumes then quickly spread to Africa and Asia, where they have been part of the staple diet ever since.
There are over 30,000 different varieties of beans, out of which several hundreds, in red, white, green and even black, are widely consumed worldwide. Canada is one of the largest exporters of dried beans, even though we don’t eat much of it here. And yet, we are advised always to use legumes as an alternative to meat, because of their high nutritional value.
Several studies have in fact linked regular consumption of legumes with a better control of diabetes, and a decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.
Since the different varieties of beans mostly taste the same, you can easily substitute one type for another in recipes. Just remember to always soak them for several hours first, for easier cooking and digestion.
Originally published in the Journal de Montréal on March 24, 2012.