Navy beans, you know them, those small off-white colored beans that look… well, pretty plain. Did you know they pack a nutritional punch?
Navy beans, like most beans, are high in fiber and low in fat – perfect for folks who want to eat healthier or who are watching their waistlines. These beans are high in potassium, which plays a role in blood pressure regulation. They are also high in protein, which is great news for anyone wanting to increase their intake of plant-based foods. They are a good source of iron, too.
Interesting fact: Navy beans got their name because they were a staple food in the US Navy during the 19th century. They are also referred to as the white pea bean, but Navy bean is its more popular name.
It is the bean most commonly used to make baked beans. They have a mild taste and this allows them to pair well with other foods. They can be used to make spreads or dips and take on the flavor of spices used in those recipes.
They can also be used in salad, soup, stew and chili.
Beans tend to retain most of their nutritional value once cooked and canned, making them a very inexpensive protein food. Dry beans can be stored in an airtight container for up to a year. Once cooked, they can be kept refrigerated for up to three days.
If you are planning on having Navy beans for dinner, start the day before by pouring the dry white beans on a dark colored surface and sort out any damaged beans. Soak them in water, changing the water frequently if you can. If not, just soak overnight and the next morning drain and cover with fresh water again. Just prior to cooking, pick out any floating debris (skins, etc.) and drain again. Place in a pot and cover beans with water about an inch. Do not salt the water at this point as salt will toughen your beans. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to low (simmer), cover and cook for about 30 minutes for smaller beans, longer for bigger beans. (To add flavor to your beans, you can sauté some onions and garlic in some olive oil in a pot. Once these are caramelized, add the beans and the water.) You may salt the beans just before they are done or afterward just prior to serving.
If buying canned beans, drain the liquid and rinse the beans before consuming.
Why do you have to soak the beans or drain the canned ones? To reduce the amount of gas-producing substances naturally occurring in beans and to reduce the amount of sodium from the canned beans (salt, which contains sodium, is a natural preservative commonly used in canned goods).
Beans contain a naturally occurring sugar called raffinose. Unfortunately, due to the way the human digestive systems works, we lack the mechanism to break down raffinose. The result? It passes undigested through our digestive system where it is fermented by gas producing bacteria that are part of our digestive flora. These bacteria produce carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen leading to flatulence. While this causes some distress to folks, it is easily remedied by soaking the beans, draining them and cooking them in fresh water. The use of some digestive aids (Beano for example) can also help.
All in all, beans are an excellent source of many nutrients and a very affordable source of protein. Enjoy.