Beans and legumes are often mistakenly thought to be synonymous with each other due to the relationship they have, but they refer to entirely different things.
They both have many similar characteristics including their appearance, nutritional content, and geographical distribution, which only adds to the confusion about these two kinds of grains.
Beans vs Legumes
The main difference between Beans and Legumes is that beans are simply a very large subset of legumes.
Legumes refer to the plants of the Fabaceae family, which will bear a pod that splits into both sides and contains between one and twelve fruits or seeds.
Beans, however, are one type of seed of these plants that belongs to a specific genera of the Fabaceae family, known as phaseolus.
Comparison Table Between Beans and Legumes (in Tabular Form)
|Parameter of Comparison||Beans||Legumes|
|Scientific grouping||From the genera phaseolus||From the Fabaceae plant|
|Vitamin/mineral content||Protein, copper, manganese, vitamins B1, B6, E, and K||Thiamine, riboflavin, folate, iron, magnesium|
|Commonly found and cultivated in||Mexico, Central, and South America||India and western Asia|
|Preparation||Must be soaked 12+ hours||Fresh, dried, sprouted, canned, roasted, pureed|
|Examples||Kidney, black, lima, mung||Lentils, beans, peanuts, peas|
What are Beans?
There are approximately forty thousand different species of beans held at genebanks worldwide, however, only a small handful of them are farmed for mass production.
Every variety of bean is a type of legume as it comes from the pods of a flowering Fabaceae plant, however green and lima beans are not considered to be in the same category nutrition-wise as other legumes.
Due to their high vitamin, mineral, and fibre content, beans are often classified as a vegetable, and their high phytonutrient levels are believed to play a role in helping to fight chronic disease.
Something that sets them apart from most vegetables, and that confirms their reputation as somewhat of a “superfood”, is the relatively high levels of protein they typically contain.
A quarter cup of cooked black beans has the same amount of protein as an ounce of meat. However, beans lack a few amino acids compared to animal meats and are therefore considered to be a lesser quality protein.
When preparing beans it is very important to soak the beans for at least twelve hours before cooking, and rinsing them off or changing the water at least twice before cooking.
This is because many varieties of beans have an outer membrane that will limit mineral absorption, or even be toxic in humans if not removed before consumption.
The most common method by far to cook the beans after soaking is to boil them on a stove, but it is also possible to bake or fry beans as well.
Pinto, black, kidney, and farva are some of the most commonly known types of beans.
What are Legumes?
Worldwide there are approximately eighteen thousand different species of legumes, which refers to the plant of the Fabaceae family.
Legumes in the context of food can also refer to the fruit of these plants.
Legumes that are farmed and eaten by humans such as peas, lentils, and soybeans are called pulses, whereas forage legumes are grown as livestock feed, such as alfalfa and clover.
The word legume comes from the french word for vegetable and can be defined as a herbaceous plant, shrub, tree or vine, with one to twelve seeds contained inside a pod that splits down both sides when ripe.
The nutritional value of legumes is enormous, and for that reason, they are known as the original superfood. They contain zero fat or cholesterol, and high amounts of fiber, protein, and vitamins.
Another important point to note is the legume’s role in crop rotation for agriculturists.
Nitrogen-fixing bacteria housed in nodules on the roots of the Fabaceae plant transform atmospheric nitrogen into fertilizer for crops that will be planted after harvesting the legume.
Legumes other than beans do not necessarily need to be soaked and boiled and can be consumed fresh, dried, canned, sprouted, roasted, or pureed.
Lentils, beans, peanuts, and peas are all universally recognized and consumed legumes.
Main Differences Between Beans and Legumes
- Legumes are plants of the Fabaceae family that have pods that split into both sides and contain up to a dozen seeds. Beans are a type of these seeds and come from plants of the genera Phaseolus.
- There are approximately forty thousand different varieties of beans held in different gene banks across the globe, whereas there are approximately eighteen thousand legumes.
- Legumes contain thiamine, riboflavin, folate, iron, magnesium, whereas beans specifically have high levels of protein, copper, manganese, and vitamins B1, B6, and K.
- India and western Asia are the highest producing and consuming areas of legumes in the world (mostly lentils and chickpeas), whereas beans are most commonly found in Mexico as well as all over Central and South America.
- Beans must be soaked for a minimum of twelve hours before cooking, which is almost always done by boiling, whereas legumes have many more options for preparation.
- Legumes cover a wide range of food products such as peas, peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, and beans. Common types of beans include kidney, black, fava, and string beans.
The most important point to note when understanding the difference between legumes and beans is to say that all beans are a large subsection of legumes.
This can be compared to legumes, which is a broad term encompassing most pod and seed-producing plants.
In scientific terms, legumes belong to the Fabaceae family of plants, and beans belong to the genera phaseolus of that plant family.
Both beans and legumes are some of the most widely available and nutritious food sources known to humanity, and regular consumption would go a long way towards a healthy diet.