Friday, July 24, 2009

Anasazi Beans: Ancient American Heirloom

Anasazi beans are among the scores of heirloom legume varieties which are indigenous to the Americas and have been cultivated for thousands of years, but remain unfamiliar to many Americans. Members of the group of common beans phaseolus vulgaris, each variety has its own distinctive coloration which can range from tan to purple, gray, blue, pink and ivory; many are speckled with dark or light spots.

Some disagreement surrounds the proper translation of the word "Anasazi" which refers to the native people who have inhabited the four corners region of the American southwest for many generations; several sources translate it as "the ancient ones". However there is no disagreement about the beauty, exceptional flavor, and high quality nutrition of these beans.

Although dried beans keep well and have a long shelf life, it is best to use them within a year or two of harvesting, as older beans are slower to cook. Heirloom varieties are available in some small produce markets and natural food stores, as well as online; you may also find them at farm stands along the coast south of San Francisco.

If you've never ventured beyond the red and white beans commonly sold in the supermarket, you will be surprised by the depth and range of the subtle flavors of heirloom beans. Their fabulous colors do fade with cooking, but I always keep an extra glass jar of these small red and white gems on a shelf in my pantry to admire and to remind me of this gift from the ancient Anasazi.