Ever wonder why green beans are called "beans" when there's no bean is sight? Green beans are the unripe or literally "green" stage of shell beans. If left to grow, they dry and produce edible beans. Instead, they're picked and eaten fresh, while immature, before the beans have developed in the pod.
The fibrous string that was once found running the length of the seam of the bean pod has mostly been bred out. That's why the beans are now more commonly known as green beans rather than string beans. Because they can be snapped in half easily, they're sometimes called snap beans.
Green beans originated in Peru, along with all common beans, and they were introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Today, over half of all commercial green beans are grown in the United States; the biggest producers are Illinois, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Wisconsin. France, Mexico, Iraq, China, Egypt, Indonesia, The Netherlands, Spain and Argentina also produce green beans commercially.
Green beans are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. They're a good source of vitamin A, dietary fiber, potassium, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. They provide valuable amounts of silicon (a mineral), as well as carotenoids and antioxidants.
Not all green beans are green. You can sometimes find other colors in the produce aisle, like purple and pink-striped beans. The yellow beans, also called "wax beans" are sometimes a little milder, but otherwise all colors taste pretty much the same.
Green beans either have an upright, vining habit (pole beans), or they grow in clusters on a squat plant (bush beans). Pole bean varieties include Kentucky Blue, Kentucky Wonder and Blue Lake. Bush beans include Blue Lake 274, Festiva and Tenderpod.
French green beans, or haricot verts, are slim, tender, petite green beans and are sometimes called "filet" beans. Common varieties of haricot verts include Maxibel and Soleil. Rocquencourt is a French heirloom variety that's yellow.
Fresh green beans, with their snappy crispness and bright color, are delectable as is (lightly steamed or even eaten raw, when young and tender). But they're also easily enhanced—by a squirt of lemon or herb vinaigrette, a sprinkling of Parmesan or feta cheese, or almonds or walnuts. Try a simple saute of green beans and tofu in sesame oil, ginger and garlic, and serve over rice for a quick dinner.
Pair green beans with pearl onions or tomatoes, mushrooms or, well, almost any vegetable in season. They're a perfect addition to any stir-fry or pasta dish, like this Pasta Primavera. Consider arranging green beans atop a fresh salad, especially one featuring fish, like Salmon Nicoise Salad or Tuscan Tuna Nicoise.
Parmesan-Crusted Green Beans features the pods coated in garlicky Parmesan breadcrumbs for green bean "fries." And Balsamic Vinaigrette and Zingy Green Bean Saute combines them with a balsamic dressing and bright cherry tomatoes, making for a tasty, colorful dish.
Don’t forget the homey comfort of a luscious, creamy green bean casserole, topped with crunchy, savory onions. Or try a new recipe, like Armenian Fassoulia, which combines braised green beans with warm spices and ground lamb in a tomato base.
Read more about Lean, Mean Green Beans.
Luckily, some variety of fresh green bean is usually available throughout the summer months, from May or June to October in most places.
Purchase green beans loose (rather than pre-packed) when possible so you can choose the freshest ones. Fresh green beans will feel fleshy, smooth and firm. Avoid limp, wrinkled beans and those with rusty ends or scarring.
Beans should be a vibrant green, with no brown spots or bruises. Buy uniformly sized beans for consistent cooking time. For best texture, choose slender beans, no thicker than a pencil. Seeds should not be visible (or barely visible) through the pod.
Store beans unwashed and in a perforated plastic bag or a vegetable bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to a week.
Remove both ends of the bean by snapping or cutting. Then use whole, or cut crosswise or diagonally.
Learn how to Blanch and Freeze Fresh Vegetables.