Not your average bean: 6 heirloom varieties

This article was originally published in March 2015

Inexpensive and highly nutritious, beans are a satisfying, warming source of protein. While canned beans are convenient, dried beans offer a spectrum of flavors and gorgeous color, thanks to a wonderful array of heirloom varieties. At PCC, you’ll find these beautiful legumes in packages from Zürsun Idaho Heirloom Beans, Rancho Gordo, and Bob’s Red Mill.



Named after the whale, orca beans, also known as calypso beans, have a mottled black and white appearance. With a mild flavor and creamy texture, they’re a lovely addition to soups, stews and side dishes. The orca beans from Bob’s Red Mill are grown in Moses Lake, Wash., making them local to boot!


Most common in Mediterranean cuisine, cranberry beans are adorned with maroon-colored speckles and a have a sweet, mild flavor and velvety texture. Often known as “borlotti” beans, they’re great in dishes like pasta e fagioli or simply tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and chopped fresh parsley.


Also known as Peruano, this small but meaty bean has a creamy texture and slightly sweet flavor. Pale yellow and oval, Mayocoba is a great substitute for cannellini or great northern beans and is ideal for soups, chilies and stews.


An heirloom of Prince Edward Island, the trout bean, also known as Jacob’s Cattle bean, has a plump kidney shape and striking maroon and ivory markings. Its rich, nutty flavor stands up well to lots of seasonings, making it a great bean for soup.

Christmas Lima

A variation on the traditional lima and originally hailing from Peru, this burgundy-flecked bean is meaty with a chestnut flavor. Big and bold, Christmas limas can handle strong flavors and sauces, such as curry. They also can be the star of a main dish, mixed with butter, garlic and sautéed mushrooms.


Developed in France in the 1800s, flageolets have an attractive pale green color and delicate flavor. Ultra creamy, they’re well suited for slow-cooked dishes as they hold their shape. They can be substituted for navy beans, and while often paired with lamb or cassoulet, they’re a great accompaniment to fish, salads and vegetarian dishes.


Do I really need to soak dried beans?

Soaking beans overnight helps speed up the cooking process. Once soaked, most beans are tender within 30 to 45 minutes. To soak, place the beans in a large bowl and cover with about 3 inches of water. Soak at room temperature for at least 4 hours, drain and rinse. But what if you forget to soak the beans? Put the beans in a pot, cover with about 5 inches of water and bring to a boil. Then remove them from the heat and let sit covered, in hot water, for an hour. This quick-soaking method will get your beans ready for cooking.


Quick tip

To increase digestibility of beans, add a six-inch piece of dried Japanese seaweed called kombu to the cooking pot and remove when the beans are done.

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