Dietribes: Lima Beans

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• Though we have come to pronounce them differently, Lima beans were indeed named for the capital of Peru where they have been growing for over 7,500 years. Through trading and cultivation, limas became popular throughout the world, spreading across central America and the United States to Europe and Africa via Spanish and Portuguese ships!
 
• Lima beans also have a dark secret: raw limas should never be consumed because they contain a cyanide compound that is part of the plant's defense mechanism. Cooking the beans uncovered and draining the cooking water lessens the risks.
 
• What are Lima beans so defensive about, anyway? When the beans are under attack from spider mites, they release chemicals to attract natural predators of the mites as well as warn nearby plants. Amazingly, if the plants are damaged by an agricultural tool or, say, a wayward cow, they emit different stress signals that are ignored by their neighbors.

• You may be surprised to learn that one of the largest centers of Lima bean cultivation was Beverly Hills, California. Before it became a renowned affluent neighborhood, Beverly Hills was better known for its limas. The same is true, incidentally, for LAX.
 
• Limas also happen to make beautiful art, from a wreath to the inspiration for industrial art.

• Limas are good for science projects: just ask 18 year old Lise Desquenne of Rhode Island, who was able to determine blood type using an extract of lima beans. Her process is also more economical than the blood serum technique discovered in 1900 by Nobel Prize winner Karl Landsteiner!

• The Lima bean has also found its way into pop culture merchandise, as well as local food fare merchandise like baseball hats, bird houses and even pottery in Cape May, New Jersey during their annual festival.

• If you initially turned your noses up at the idea of limas, it's probably because of the horror of recipes like this 1974 Molded Vegetable Salad with Lima Beans. But like Brussels sprouts, there are right and wrong ways to treat this food! (And when it goes right it goes oh-so-right!)
 
• Personally, I have always been a huge fan of what we in the South call a butter bean (and that my local Publix refers to as a "baby lima"). Large limas are known to have a creamy texture and earthy flavor (like chick peas), but butter beans (or baby limas) are smaller with a creamier and more delicate taste. Buttery, in fact! And delicious.
 
• How do you Flossers take your Limas? (or Butter beans?) Did you have an aversion to them in your youth but have come around? For me the butter bean is an essential part of a comfort meal. And adding extra butter certainly never hurt …

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

March 7, 2012 - 7:13am
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