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Types of Legumes (Beans, Peas, and Lentils)

Beans get a bad rap! You’ve no doubt heard all the bean jingles (“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart,” etc.) and there are certainly plenty of jokes about what happens in your digestive system after you consume too many of these tasty little legumes.

But the fact remains that legumes – which include beans, peas, and lentils – are pretty darn good for you. They contain no cholesterol at all and are generally quite low in fat. They’re a good source of soluble and insoluble fiber and also contain plenty of iron, potassium, folate, and magnesium, all of which you need for a healthy body. And, above all, legumes are a great source of protein, an ideal substitute for those who prefer not to consume meat.

In the supermarket, you can buy legumes in fresh, frozen, dried or canned form and there is generally a wide variety available in the well-stocked supermarket. The beans and other legumes have different uses, depending on their taste, texture, and other qualities. Below is a list of some of the most common types available.

Chickpeas – Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are small, light tan, acorn-shaped peas that are often spotted on a salad bar or used in some soups, like minestrone. They are also the base for the popular Middle Eastern food known as hummus, which comes in several different varieties.

Kidney beans – A very versatile food, kidney beans come in three colors: white, red, and dark red. You can generally find them in a can or dried. They are the type most often used in chili recipes and are also found in a lot of Cajun cuisine as well as in stews and other hearty dishes. The white ones have a milder flavor than the red ones.

Lima beans – Also known as butter beans because of their flavor, lima beans are light green and kidney-shaped. They are a popular ingredient in soups and stews, like Brunswick Stew, or can be served as a side dish. When mixed with corn, the side dish is known as succotash.

Black-eyed peas – Sometimes called China or Indian peas, black-eyed peas have long appeared in dishes that are popular in the southern United States, usually mixed with ham and rice. They can also be found in Indian curry dishes and may be included in salads.

Split peas – Available in yellow or green, this ingredient is most often used in the soup of the same name, where it is usually mixed with ham and onion.

Black beans – Available canned and dried, black beans are popular in Mexican or other Latin foods. You’ll find them in burritos, enchiladas, and a variety of other favorites. Black beans are also often mixed with rice and served as a main course.

Mung beans – Also called Adzuki beans, these are among the most colorful in the bean family, available in brown, black, red, and green. You’ll find them in many Chinese and Japanese dishes and they are also used to make sweet bean paste, which is used in some Asian pastries.

Soybeans – Native to East Asia, the soybean – or edamame bean – enjoys a huge variety of uses and can be found mixed with pasta or rice or as an ingredient in soups or stews. They can also garnish a salad or simply be eaten as a snack.

Lentils – This legume comes in a variety of sizes and colors. Lentil soup is quite popular the world over, and lentils are also used in combination with rice as a main dish in many countries. As a good source of protein, many vegetarians consume them instead of meat.