Saturday, February 28, 2009

Apple #371: Beans -- coffee

This is the ninth entry in a series about Beans.


The coffee plant, which is an evergreen that prefers a tropical climate with lots of rain. The red things are actually berries. They are ripe when they are red. Typically they hold two seeds, or pips (what we call beans).
(Photo by Hein Biljmakers)

Coffee beans after they've been removed from the berry and dried, but not yet roasted. They look like peanuts, don't they?
(Photo by Maressa on Picasa)

Classified as:
  • Coffee beans are, first of all, legumes. Which makes coffee a fruit.
  • Unlike all the other beans we've been exploring, coffee beans are members of a completely different family -- not Fabaceae. They are dicotyledons like our previous beany friends, but beyond that, their scientific classification diverges.
  • Coffee is part of the Rubiaceae family, which include varieties of trees, shrubs, and herbs.
  • Within Rubiaceae, wild coffee belongs to a genus called Psychotria, while cultivated coffee is in the Coffea genus.
  • Most of the cultivated coffee sold is Coffea arabica, or Arabian coffee. When people throw that term around, they are actually indicating the species of coffee you're about to drink.
  • Coffea robusta is the second most-commonly sold species of coffee.

General facts:
  • While coffee was introduced to the world from the Middle East, the majority of coffee today is grown in Brazil.
  • It takes five years for a coffee plant to yield mature beans. After maturity, one tree will produce five pounds of coffee in one year.
  • Until the 1870s, people used to roast their own coffee, in a pan over a fire.
  • In the roasting methods used now, the beans are roasted to 400 F. At about that temperature, the beans darken, double in size, and crack. As the roasting continues, the beans develop an oil which gathers in pockets throughout the bean. Once the beans have cracked twice, they are cooled immediately in cold air.
  • Researchers are continuing to discover new aromatic compounds in coffee. Currently, they have identified over 800. Some of the most dominant compounds are described as follows:
  1. honey-like, fruity
  2. roasty
  3. catty
  4. earthy
  5. spicy
  6. buttery
  7. vanilla
  8. caramel-like
  9. seasoning-like.
  • Good to know that those flavor researchers make up words the same way the rest of us do. (For more on the aromatic compounds in coffee, see a previous entry about Coffee that I completely forgot about.)
  • The person who invented instant coffee was not named Juan Valdez. In fact, lots of people came up with the idea in various places around the world. One of the inventors was Belgian, living in Guatemala, and his name was George Washington.
  • The country whose citizens drink the most amount of coffee per person is -- surprise! -- Finland.

(Chart sourced from, 2008)

  • However, because the United States' population is far higher than Finland's, ringing in at a consumption of 400 million cups of coffee per day, the United States is the biggest consumer of coffee in the world.
  • Based on surveys conducted in the United States, most women say that drinking coffee helps them relax. Men say that it helps them get their work done.
  • I don't drink coffee anymore, but if I did, I would say I drank it to help me stay awake and get my work done.

I'm almost done with the beans (pant, pant). Just one more to go.

Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, legumes
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans
USDA Plants Database, Name search results for coffee
Brian Martel, A Few Facts about Coffee
Biljmakers, Coffee
Phil Lempert Supermarket Guru, Instant Coffee, April 4, 2008
Coffee, Coffee Roasting, Coffee Aroma
Cocoa Java, Fun Facts About Coffee
E-Imports, Coffee Statistics, 2008

Apple #371: Beans -- fava

This is the eighth entry in a series about Beans.


Here they are, by request. I'm sorry, fava bean lovers, but there is no way I can talk about fava beans without including this, from Silence of the Lambs:

Fava beans in and out of their pods.
(Photo from Dinner with Julie)

Fava beans with olive oil, Parmesan, salt & pepper
(Photo and recipe from Frumpy Foodie)

Categorized as:
  • Fruit.
  • Pulse (sold commercially in large quantities in dry form)
  • Species name: Vicia faba minor. Part of the Fabaceae family, same as all the other beans we've discussed so far, but it's a type of vetch. Lots of beans are vetches, actually, which actually means that it's a climbing plant. But so are other plants that are used more as forage or ground cover. Alfalfa is a kind of vetch.

General facts:
  • May also be called broad beans, pigeon beans, horse beans, English beans, or Windsor beans. To answer one Daily Apple reader's question, they are not the same as Lima beans. Though they sure do look like Lima beans.
  • I've never had the fava beans myself, but it sounds like their taste is similar to the Lima beans: buttery, nutty, and slightly bitter.
  • Before Europeans discovered the New World and all its Phaeolus vulgaris beans, fava beans were the only beans they ate. Because those were the only ones they knew. Poor old Europeans. No black beans for them!
  • Some people think that the beans in Jack and the Beanstalk were probably fava beans. Which also had magic capabilities besides their usual fava-ness.
  • A very few people can have a severe allergic reaction to fava beans, called favism. I have no idea how you'd know whether you have this before eating fava beans, except that the people who tend to have this allergy are of Mediterranean, African, or Southeast Asian descent. Well, that rules out only about half the world.
  • The fact that some Mediterranean folks can have this allergy is kind of a kicker because during a period of famine, many Sicilians survived on the fava bean.
  • Italians -- and the Greeks -- have been eating fava beans for centuries. The name "fava" was originally "Faba," after a noble Roman family, Fabii.
  • Pythagoras, who had lots of ideas about lots of things besides just geometry, told his followers never to eat fava beans. He thought they contained the souls of the dead.
  • Europeans aren't the only ones who ate fava beans. They've been a part of Chinese meals for thousands of years.
  • In fact, fava beans have been cultivated for so long, there's no longer any wild variant of the plant left.

Fava beans, deep-fried, served in Guatemala.
(Photo from Andy's Hobo Traveler blog)

  • The pod is pretty tough and there is also some greenish white "matter" in there with the beans. Once you've got the beans out,you have to parboil them to get rid of their waxy coating. So if you buy them in the pod, you're in for some work.
  • Chefs say that fava beans are best cooked in butter, oil, or cream. Lots of people seem to like them boiled gently with olive oil and salt, and served with coarse salt and Parmesan on top.
  • They go well with lightly smoked meats, seafood, or veal. Makes sense, eh, Dr. Lecter?

Next bean for your consideration: coffee beans.

Bonny Wolf, Fava Beans: A Little Spring on Your Plate, NPR Kitchen Window, March 28, 2007
Specialty Produce, Fava Beans, Fava Beans
Moira Hodgson, Fava Beans Take Time, but Are Worth It, The New York Times, May 5, 1996
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, legumes
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Apple #371: Beans -- green peas

This is the seventh entry in a series about Beans.


Green peas, still in the pod.
(Photo from Ramoverseas)

Classified as:
  • Technically a fruit. But since they're sold fresh, most agricultural organizations classify them as a vegetable.
  • Not a pulse.
  • Species name: Pisum sativum.
  • The garden pea is the same species, but it is sold dry and is considered a pulse.

The pods of snap peas are a little flatter and broader than the green pea.
(Photo from, where you can buy seeds for these guys)

General facts:
  • Only about 5% of peas that are grown are sold fresh. The rest are frozen or canned (boo on canned).
  • If you're buying them fresh, you'll get them in the pod. Sometimes the pods are thick and tough and even though you could eat the pod, it can be pretty fibrous so it's best to shell those peas out of there.
  • With snap peas, the pods are less rounded and tend not to be as fibrous so they'll be easier to eat. These might have that "string" which we encountered on the green bean, and which you'll want to pull off.
  • With snow peas -- same species as snap peas, but different variety -- the pea (seed) is much smaller and the pod is flatter and sweet. Best to eat the whole thing, pod and pea.
  • Like green beans, green peas are also high in vitamin K.
  • I think frozen peas are easiest to work with, and they still turn out tasting moist and bright and cheery. The Barefoot Contessa agrees. She makes her pot pie with frozen peas.

Next bean, by popular demand: fava beans.

The World's Healthiest Foods, Green peas, Encyclopedia, Snap pea and Snow peas
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, legumes
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Apple #371: Beans -- green beans

This is the sixth entry in a series about Beans.


Green beans (or pole beans) on the vine.
(Photo from Sunset seeds)

Pan-fried green beans with soy sauce and sesame seeds.
(Photo and recipe from Cafe Liz's blog of Kosher recipes)

Categorized as:
  • Technically a fruit. But because they are sold fresh, not dry, most agricultural organizations call them a vegetable.
  • We eat these in the shell. Some say the term for this is "pod bean." Others say it's "shell bean."
  • Not a pulse because they are sold fresh, not dry.
  • Species name: Phaseolus vulgaris. That's right, all those other beans like black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, etc., are Phaseolus vulgaris beans, too. Those are all also pulses. But green beans -- same species -- are not.

General facts:
  • Sometimes also called string beans. Green beans used to have a fibrous, tough thread that ran along the seam of the shell. You could remove it starting at the tip and pulling, and it came away like a string. Hence, "string beans." Now, most green beans now have been bred to have a string that's barely noticeable, if at all.
  • Sometimes also called snap beans. You have to remove the spiky tips, and the easiest way to do that is to snap them off.
  • Also called pole beans. The green bean plant is all viney and it can grow really tall, so people usually have to stake the plants to poles to keep them from falling over. Hence "pole beans."

You can call 'em Pole beans, you can call 'em Green beans, you can call 'em String beans, you can call 'em Snap beans. Just don't call 'em pulses.
(Photo from Jenkins Woodworking blog's Fiberjoy)

  • Sometimes also called runner beans for the way the vines "run" along whatever you lean them against. But there are several other species that are also called runner beans -- scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) is a good example. Scarlet runner beans, which are named for the blossoms which are scarlet, are considered a pulse.
  • Some people put wax beans in the same group as green beans. They say the only thing different about wax beans is the color (they're yellow). Yellow beans, however, they say are a completely different bean. Make sense?
  • Green beans are very high in Vitamin K -- 25% of your daily requirement is in one cup of green beans. Vitamin K helps maintain bone density and helps your blood coagulate. For the women, if you have lots of bleeding each month, getting more vitamin K might help reduce that.
  • You can keep green beans in the refrigerator for several days and they'll still be good. But once you can see the seeds through the shell or they start to get nicked or tough, the nutrition has mostly gone out of them and there's not much point.
  • The best way to cook green beans, in my opinion, is to steam them. Get out your steamer basket, boil about a cup of water in the bottom of a saucepan, snip the tips off the beans, put 'em in your steamer basket, put the basket in the saucepan, cover, and steam. When they're done, they'll have turned a bright green, and when you poke 'em with a fork, they should be mostly tender but still with some crispness.
  • Once cooked, they're good topped with any of the usual suspects -- butter, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, salt & pepper, etc.
  • In my opinion, canned green beans should be banned from the face of the earth. No more oversalted vegetable mush!

Next bean for your consideration: green peas.

Sources, Beans - Fresh (Edamame and Green Beans), Phaseolus vulgaris or the Green Bean
Wise Geek, What are Pole Beans?
The World's Healthiest Foods, Green beans and Green beans in-depth nutrient analysis, Encyclopedia, Snap pea and Snow peas
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, legumes
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Apple #371: Beans -- lentils

This is the fifth entry in a series about Beans.


Leaves and pod of one type of lentil plant, the black beluga
(Photo from Bucky's Barbecue & Bread food photography blog)

One reader doesn't think the above photo is of a lentil plant -- even though it is a particular and unusual kind of lentil, the black beluga lentil, which has been hung on a wire for the purposes of photography -- so here's another photo that is more obviously of a lentil plant:

Harder to see the lentils here, isn't it?
(Photo from Energy Farms Network)

Only three of the different varieties of lentils
(Photo from eHow)

Categorized as:
  • Fruit
  • Pulse
  • Sometimes also called daal
  • Species name: Lens culinaris

General facts:

  • Lentils grow in pods that contain one or two seeds.
  • They are among the first foods to have been cultivated. They're very easy to grow and to this day, they are extremely inexpensive.
  • Lenses are so-named because they are shaped like lentils. In other words, that's how old they are: people knew about lentils long before they knew about lenses.
  • Once upon a time in Ancient Greece, Hippocrates prescribed a dish of lentils and sliced dog to treat liver ailments. I do not recommend the sliced dog.
  • They've been a staple in civilizations around the world for centuries. In Europe, Catholics who couldn't afford fish ate them during Lent, so they got branded as what you eat when there's nothing else.
  • By the way, Lent is not named after lentils, but it seems to be a descendant of the word "long" or "lengthen" because Lent lasts a long time (40 days, to be exact).
  • In the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia, lentils remain wildly popular. In India, "any self-respecting household" eats lentils in some form at least twice a day.
  • Very popular source of protein for vegetarians.
  • One cup of lentils gives you 90% of your daily requirement of folic acid -- more than any other food. Folate is very important for women who are or will shortly become pregnant because it helps to reduce the risk of birth defects.
  • There are all sorts of varieties of lentils. They range in color from yellow to green to red to black. Green are popular with the Europeans and Americans, while red are more popular with folks in the Middle East.
  • Black lentils are very high in antioxidants.
  • As with most fruits, the smaller varieties are more flavorful, but of course the Americans like 'em big.
  • Dry lentils don't need to be pre-soaked, but they do need to be cleaned, rinsed, and cooked.
  • Get the water boiling first. With lentils, this will help reduce the gas the beans retain. Add the lentils, bring back to a boil, then simmer. Green lentils take about 30 minutes, red ones only 20.
  • They taste better if you add a peeled onion that you've cut into hunks.
  • When they're ready, pour olive oil over the lot, scoop 'em onto buttered toast, add salt, pepper, garlic salt, and maybe some of your favorite cheese, and you've got dinner.

Next bean on the menu: green beans.

National Lentil Festival, Lentil Facts & Lore, Lentils
Healthy Eating, World's Healthiest Foods: Lentils (India)
The World's Healthiest Foods, Lentils
Thoughtful Foods, Lentils
Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, legumes
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses

Apple #371: Beans -- chickpeas

This is the fourth entry in a series about Beans.


The chickpeas are inside those pods, usually two beans per pod.
(Photo from Pithy and Clever)

Washed, soaked, in the bowl and ready to eat.
(Photo from All Creatures Vegan - Vegetarian Recipe Book)

I take it back what I said about black beans being my favorite. My true favorite is chickpeas. Garbanzo beans, whatever you want to call them. I LOVE the chickpeas. They have a nutty flavor and they're large enough to feel substantial when biting into them. I just had some about an hour ago, in fact. Sometimes I open a can and eat them by the handful, plain. Often I make a little salad with them. I never measure anything, so the amounts are pure guesswork:
  • 1 can of chick peas
  • 1 or 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • About a third of cucumber (if I have it), diced
  • Three slices or so of onion, minced
  • A good splash of apple cider vinegar, maybe 2 Tbsp?
  • A bigger splash of extra virgin olive oil, maybe 3 Tbsp?
  • Squirt of lemon juice concentrate, about 4 seconds' worth
  • salt
  • pepper
  • lots of grated Parmesan cheese
Takes about 5 or 10 minutes to make. I eat the whole thing in one sitting. It's crunchy, filling, and the celery and cucumber make it refreshing.

I like the chickpeas so well, this is my second time talking about them. I'll try not to duplicate the stuff I said in my previous entry on garbanzo beans.

Categorized as:
  • Pulse
  • People don't generally refer to them as either fruit or vegetable, but they are a fruit.
  • Species name: Cicer arietinum. They're still part of the Fabaceae family, but they're in a different genera than the black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc.

General facts:

  • "Garbanzo" is Spanish for "chickpea," so the terms are pretty much interchangeable.
  • First cultivated around 3000 BC -- some say as early as 5400 BC -- in the Middle East. Soon became popular in India, Ethiopia, Egypt, Greek, and Rome.
  • If you're especially bothered by the gas that beans will inevitably give you, choose the garbanzo bean. Of all the beans, they tend to give people the least amount of gas.
  • Flour can be made from chickpeas, and it is gluten-free, a necessity for people with celiac disease.
  • There are actually two major varieties of garbanzo beans, Desi and Kabuli. Desi is smaller and darker while Kabuli is larger and lighter in color. Desi has higher nutritional benefits and is typically the kind milled into flour. Kabuli is more widely available in the US. Most canned chickpeas will be the Kabuli variety.
  • To prepare dry garbanzo beans, boil them in water for 2 minutes, take them off the heat, cover and let stand for 2 hours. Or soak them in water for 8 hours overnight.
  • Always skim off the foam and debris that floats to the top, drain, and rinse.
  • Then you'll need to simmer them in water for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Canned chickpeas are much quicker and easier to use, and they retain most of their nutritional value.

Next bean: lentils.

The World's Healthiest Foods, Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
Nicky Blackburn, Discovering the secret to civilization -- starting chickpea, Israel 21C, January 21, 2007
Wise Geek, What are Chick Peas?
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canada's Chick Pea Industry
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Apple #371: Beans -- lima beans

This is the third entry in a series about Beans.


Lima beans in the shell.
(Photo from Food Subs)

Lima beans being rinsed.
(Photo from Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center)

Categorized as:
  • Fruit
  • One of FAO's pulses
  • Species name is Phaseolus lunatus, or the sieva bean. It turns out, "sieva bean" is yet another name for Lima beans. It's not one I have ever heard for Lima beans, but I guess that's what the scientists call their Lima beans.

General facts:

  • I discussed lima beans briefly in a previous entry about Peru. Because Lima beans really are named after Lima (lee-mah), Peru.
  • Lima beans were probably first grown in Brazil or perhaps Guatemala, but Europeans first ate them when they were in Lima. So they called them Lima beans.
  • Sometimes they're called butter beans because of their soft, buttery texture. They are also occasionally called chad beans.
  • Most Lima beans are green or cream colored, but some less common varieties are red, purple, brown, or black.
  • Baby Lima beans are grown in Peru. Fordhook Lima beans, another popular variety, are grown in the US. I prefer the baby Limas because they're usually more tender, and don't toughen when you cook them, which can sometimes happen with the bigger Fordhooks.
  • Lima bean plants do well in humid and tropical climates, so they have become an important crop in African and Asian countries.
  • Lima beans contain a compound which is used to make cyanide. But eating cooked Lima beans won't poison you. Most varieties grown in the US have very low levels of the compound, and commercially-sold Lima beans have all been rinsed first, so they contain even less.
  • It's hard to find fresh Lima beans, but canned (not so great) and frozen (better) Lima beans are widely available.
  • Succotash is Lima beans and corn and sometimes stewed tomatoes. I used to think it had to be more complicated than that for such a fancy word, but that's all it is.
  • Lots of Lima bean recipes are listed here at lovetoknow.

Next bean on the menu: chickpeas.

The World's Healthiest Foods, Lima beans, Lima Bean Trivia
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Apple #371: Beans -- pinto beans

This is the second entry in a series about Beans.


Pinto beans, dry
(Photo by Lori Highfill, sourced from Simple Mom, who has a recipe for crock pot pintos)

Pinto beans, soaked and then cooked. For 12 hours in a crock pot with onion, bacon, and chili powder.
(Photo from Paddlin Pigs BBQ, which also gives the recipe)

Categorized as:
  • Fruit. But they are the official vegetable of New Mexico.
  • Also one of the FAO's pulses.
  • Also a member of the Phaseolus vulgaris species.

General facts:

  • When dry, pinto beans are beige with reddish streaks. "Pinto" means "painted" in Spanish.
  • When cooked, they turn pink and the streaks go away.
  • More pinto beans are grown in the US than any other type of bean.
  • The refried beans that come on your plate with your enchiladas or in your Taco Bell burrito are pinto beans.
  • Pinto beans contain more fiber than any other bean -- one cup provides 74% of your daily fiber requirement.
  • One cup also gives you 100% of your daily folate needs. Folate can help in reducing heart disease.
  • They're fairly high in copper, which helps to keep joints and tendons flexible. Copper is also essential for your body to be able to utilize the iron it needs to carry oxygen in the bloodstream.
  • To use dry pinto beans, you have to soak these for 8 hours in the refrigerator so they don't ferment.
  • Or you can boil them for two minutes, take them off the heat, and let them soak for 2 hours.
  • Either way you soak them, be sure to discard that water. It's got some of the bean-gas in it that you don't want to eat and have to expel later.
  • After the pinto beans are softened, they still need to be cooked. Bring them to a boil and then simmer and skim off the foam.
  • Wait until the pinto beans are fully cooked before adding seasonings.

Next up: Lima beans.

The World's Healthiest Foods, Pinto beans, Pinto beans
J&J Distributing, Fresh Facts, Beans - Pinto
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Apple #371: Beans -- black beans

This is the first entry in a series of about Beans.


These might be my favorite. I like their flavor, and I like that they hold their shape even after they're heated up. They stay firm and don't get all mushy, so I feel like I'm really eating something when I have black beans. I like to mix them with some salsa and a dash or two of garlic salt and put them on toast with melted cheese on top. Lunch, cheap and easy and filling.

Black beans, dried
(Photo from Delia Online)

Same thing, from a can
(Photo from All Creatures Vegan - Vegetarian Recipe Book)

Categorized as:
  • Fruit.
  • The UN's FAO also classifies it as one of several pulses, which are several varieties of beans that are sold in dry form.
  • Species name Phaseolus vulgaris (common bean).
  • Originated in Peru, along with several other common beans like navy, kidney, pinto, etc.
  • In fact, all the beans that originated in Peru are members of the same species, Phaseolusvulgaris.

General facts:
  • Sometimes also called turtle beans.
  • Flavor similar to mushrooms, but a little smokier.
  • Ounce for ounce, black beans have the same amount of protein as beef.
  • They are as high in antioxidants as super-fruits like cranberries and grapes.
  • If you're going to use dry black beans, it's best if you can soak them for 2-4 hours before boiling. If you skip the soaking and go straight to boiling, they can get soft and mushy.

Next bean in the series: Pinto beans.

The World's Healthiest Foods, Black beans
Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati, "Black Beans: A Perfect Food,", Black Beans, Dried
USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Apple #371: Beans

I like beans. Lots of different kinds of them. Lately, I've been noticing how many different kinds of beans there are. There are varieties like green beans and wax beans, and then there are other kinds like black beans and pinto beans. Then there are things that we call "beans," but I don't know whether they are technically considered beans: coffee beans and vanilla beans.

So I thought I'd look up good ol' beans and find out what's a bean and what's not.

It turns out, beans are enormously complicated. For example, most of the time, they're a fruit. But sometimes they're a vegetable. Depending on whom you ask, peas may or may not be a type of bean. Peanuts may or may not be beans, too. And some people categorize vetch, which is a type of ground cover, right along with beans.

One thing I think I can say for certain is that all beans are legumes. Legumes are a type of fruit whose seeds grow in pods.

If all beans are legumes, and legumes are a type of fruit, you would think this would make all beans fruit. Well, that's true most of the time, except for a couple of cases when agricultural officials say they're vegetables anyway.

Here's another area of enormous confusion. Some people call some of the beans "shell beans." They say those beans that have been shelled and whose seeds we eat are called "shell beans." Lima beans are a good example here. The ones we eat still in the shell, or pod, are called "pod beans." Green beans are an example of pod beans.

But some people define "shell" and "pod" beans exactly the opposite of what I've described. Other people group the common beans in with "shell beans," while most seem to omit them.

I think I'm going to omit the terms "shell" and "pod" beans entirely because those terms turn into a bunch of beany mush pretty quickly.

Here are some nutritional facts that are true about most beans:
  • Because they're high in fiber and low in sugar, beans are also very good for people with diabetes.
  • They are high in tryptophan.
  • Tryptophan is not just to make you sleepy on Thanksgiving Day. It helps synthesize serotonin in the brain. By doing that, it improves performance under stress, reduces aggression, and promotes ovulation, and "in many ways works like Prozac," said one researcher from the University of Jerusalem.

As for what makes each bean different, I'll try to cut through the complexity and give you the information that you really want to know. I think the best way to do that is, to paraphrase Annie LaMott, bean by bean.

I originally had the beans I profiled, so to speak, as part of this one single entry, but it got way too long. So I've now broken them up into separate entries. Hopefully that makes all these beans more manageable for you.

Black beans
Pinto beans
Lima beans
Green beans
Green peas

Coming soon:
Fava beans
Coffee beans
Vanilla beans

USDA Plants Database, Classification Down to Family Fabaceae
FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 4. Pulses and Derived Products
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Pulses
Wikipedia, Fabaceae and pulses
Edhat Santa Barbara, Veggie of the Week - Shell Beans

Friday, February 13, 2009

Apple #370: Irises

This is going to be a quick one because I'm on my way out of town for the weekend.

A blue iris.
(Photograph by Joe Barr)

  • You know how each month has a birthstone? Each month also has a flower, and the flower of February is the iris.
  • If you're celebrating your 25th wedding anniversary, irises are the traditional flower to give.
  • It's also the state flower of Tennessee.
  • Tennesseeans say that the three upright petals of the flower represent faith, bravery, and wisdom. Well, I don't know if everybody from Tennessee goes around saying that. But somebody in Tennessee decided that, anyway.
  • In Japan, the iris is considered a symbol of heroism, so irises are often used in a spring festival they have for boys (kodomo no hi).
  • The iris is also the National Emblem of France. The shape of the flower is the inspiration behind the fleur de lis.

A white Siberian Iris
(Photo from the New York Botanical Garden)

  • In general, irises bloom in the springtime, from bulbs.
  • Like most spring flowers they can withstand rough temperatures, but the blossoms don't last very long. In the case of the iris, the blooms last about three days.
  • They like a lot of water. You know, like spring rains.

Purple irises, growing in Dan & Rita's garden

  • Though the bulbs can survive the cold and moody weather of early spring, once the plants are above the soil, they do better if you can keep them away from drafts and in the full sun.
  • The flowers bloom in all sorts of colors: purple, white, blue, pink, yellow, etc. The fact that there are so many colors is why the plant is named Iris, which is the Greek word for "rainbow."
There are all sorts of varieties (you've probably heard of the bearded iris). In fact, there are about 200 species of irises.
  • The bearded iris has what's called "falls." Those are the ripply petals that hang down from the main part of the blossom. On the falls are usually fuzzy hairs. That's the bearded part.

These are wild yellow irises growing in Ontario.
(Photo from Wild Flowers of Ontario)

  • There's a poem by Louise Gluck called "The Wild Iris," which just absolutely levels me.
The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

(photo by Jon Gibbs)

(That poem is in her book, Wild Iris)

Van Gogh liked irises, too.
(Photo from Fabulous Masterpieces)

The Flower Expert, Iris and Tennessee State Flower
Hot Fact, Iris Flower (cached)
Teleflora, The meaning & symbolism of iris
Flowers Direct, Iris: Flower Facts

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Apple #369: Anti-Theft Dye Packs

Daily Apple reader Tim recently asked,

Hey, Daily Apple, any chance you'll blog soon about the exploding dye packs that bank tellers slip in with the cash when a bank gets held up?

Chances are 100%. Tim, I'm answering your question right now.

In case you're nervous about this topic -- I sort of was -- there is a lot of information publicly available about these dye packs. I haven't done anything covert or weird or super-sleuthy to get this information. You'll also notice I haven't revealed anything about how to disable the dye packs or how to remove the dye from one's hands or clothing. So I doubt I've given any would-be thieves that much help.

And by the way, just to make the pronoun thing easier, I'm going to refer to the thieves as male. Sometimes the bank robbers are female (one woman dressed up like a witch to rob a bank), but the majority of the time, the thieves are male.

  • Most of the dye packs used by banks in the United States are made by a company called 3SI. The brand name of the packs they make is SecurityPac. So that's what I'll be describing here.
  • I thought maybe they would be little packages that the teller had to be all cagey about slipping into the thief's bag, but it's actually more ingenious than that.
  • 3SI takes a stack of bills -- usually 20s -- and hollows out a space in the middle of the stack. In there they hide one of the dye packs.

SecurityPac dye pack tucked into a hollowed-out stack of 20s. There would also be a second half of the stack of 20s that closes over the dye pack. Similar devices are also designed for use in vaults and in ATM machines.
(Photo from the FBI)

  • I don't know when that photo was taken, but apparently the dye packs currently in use are flexible enough that a thief can't tell that the pack is in there by squeezing or bending a stack of bills.
  • There's actually a lot of technology hiding in that little secret dye pack. First, there's a radio receiver on a circuit board. When the thief exits the bank carrying his sack of bills, a radio transmitter on the bank's door frame communicates with the little receiver in the dye pack and essentially turns on the circuit board.
  • But the thing doesn't go into action immediately. There's a 10-second delay, which allows the thief enough time to get away from any innocent bystanders, and also maybe to get in his getaway car and thus mark the vehicle as well.
  • After the 10 seconds has passed, there's a little pop and the dye pack explodes, activating any or all of the following:
  1. a great cloud of red dye
  2. a stream of tear gas
  3. a fire
  • First, the dye. It's very red. Its chemical name is 1-methylaminoanthraquinone, or MAAQ for short. It's been used by the military in colored smoke grenades with a slightly different chemical composition, and it's also been used to dye the lenses that cover car tail lights. When this dye gets on something, it sticks. Some thieves have tried to use bleach to get it off their hands and clothes and off the money they've stolen, but even that doesn't work. The forensics people can detect the dye and the bleach.

Stack of 20s stained with the MAAQ, and the dye pack having been ejected nearby.
(Photo sourced from Wall$treet Fighter)

  • Included with the dye are potassium chlorate, which is an explosive and is used in fireworks fuses. This is basically the ignition source which makes the dye explode. Also included is confectioner's sugar. That's what makes the dye puff everywhere.

Cloud of red dye, exploding from a dye pack.
(Photo by 3SI, sourced from the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing)

  • As for the tear gas, it's your basic CS tear gas which is used by the police for riot control, and is in those personal defense tear gas sprays that you can buy. Standard, noxious stuff.
  • Now for the fire. Extending from the circuit board is a "squib" or something like a fuse, which leads to a pouch containing a chemical mixture that 3SI doesn't want disclosed. That mixture gets heated to 400 degrees F. That's hot enough to start burning the money and, more importantly, to keep the thief from grabbing the offending money stack and getting rid of it or the dye pack.
  • The whole idea is that the combination of red dye, tear gas, and fire will make the thief drop all the money and run. The dye on his hands will serve as a finger of guilt so that it will be easy for police to identify the thief even after he's left the scene.

The result that 3SI envisions
(Photo from 3SI Security Systems)

  • But you can probably spot some loopholes here. They're assuming the thief will drop all the money, not just the one bundle that's spewing the nastiness. They're also assuming that someone will spot the thief with red dye all over his hands and call the police. In fact, even though the dye is really hard to remove, some thieves do still get away with it. Or at least, if they don't get away with the money, they don't get caught.
  • In 2002, 3SI reported that their dye packs were used in 1,078 robberies. They say that 72% of the stolen cash was recovered, and 25% of the robbers were arrested. Though that's a good percentage of money returned, the number of arrests seems pretty low.
  • So 3SI and other companies have loaded up the dye packs with still more gems. These things have already been deployed in some dye packs in the United States and Europe:
  1. siren that screams when activated
  2. GPS tracking device
  3. DNA tagging, which marks the criminal with a very precise identifier of the location attacked.
  • Something else that has gone wrong in the plan is that sometimes a teller has mistakenly given a stack of bills with a dye pack in it to an innocent customer. One guy in Seattle whom this happened to had to be taken to a hospital, get washed in a chemical-removing shower, and be treated for second-degree burns.
  • In most cases where these accidents have happened, the bank tellers and managers don't explain to the press what went wrong or who was at fault, mainly because they're too embarrassed to talk about it.
  • One guy who works for another manufacturer of dye packs said that the tellers are supposed to keep the dye pack stacks of bills on a magnetic plate. This keeps the radio signal on the door frame from setting off the pack inside the bank. This guy said that this magnetic plate makes "Accidental activation a thing of the past." Except that was in 1991 and a lot of those accidental activations occurred within the past five years.
  • In spite of such errors and flaws, sometimes it all does go as planned. Remember that woman I mentioned at the outset who dressed up as a witch and held up a bank? A dye pack exploded on her. Even though she ditched the witch's hat and the $2,000 she'd stolen, she was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. She had actually committed several other hold-ups. Police estimate she had stolen $11,500 over the course of her robbing career.

She looks like a friendly witch, doesn't she? Er, witch and habitual bank robber, that is.
(Photo from KIROTV, sourced from

Howstuffworks, I've heard of bank robbers being foiled by a "dye pack" put in their money stash. What is a "dye pack?"
Pamela C. Reynolds, FBI Laboratory, Forensic Science Communications, "Analysis of Bank Dye Evidence and the Challenges of Daubert Hearings," January 2008
US Patent 5485143, Security dye pack having flexible heat-resistant chemical pouch (abstract)
US Patent 6552550, 3SI, Flexible smoke generator
3SI North America, SecurityPac,
3SI Europe, SecurityPac, Unique DNA Tag Deters Attacks
Mary Pifer of 3SI Security Systems, Credit Union Magazine, Dye packs deny cash prize to robbers, September 2003
Credit Union Resources, ScreamerPac
Lester Haines, "DNA 'tagging' powder combats unwanted intrusions," The Register, July 25, 2005
Credit Union National Association, Security Solutions for Cash Protection
James M. Egan et al., "Bank Security Dye Packs: Synthesis, Isolation, and Characterization of Chlorinated Products of Bleached 1-(methylamino)anthraquinone," Journal of Forensic Sciences, November 8, 2006.
"Caught Red-Handed!" Bankers' Hotline, June 1991, sourced from
Sara Jean Green, "Dye-pack explosion injures man at bank," The Seattle Times, March 4, 2005
AP, "Woman In Witch Costume Robs Washington Bank," November 1, 2005
Alan Wagmeister, "Witchy Bank Robber Gets Jail Sentence," Digitriad (Triad, NC), May 4, 2006

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Apple #368: Bruises

When I don't get enough sleep, I tend to run into things. Corner of the desk, coffee table, edge of the chair, etc. In the past few days, I've bonked my left knee so many times, it looks like some inmate's watercolor experiment.

So I am curious, when I get a bruise, what's going on in there? I know that's old blood, but why is it just sitting in that one place and not whooshing away through the blood vessels? What are the color changes about? Is it possible to make a bruise go away faster, or do you just have to wait it out?

So many questions. . . .

Bruises on the knee of a woman named Jan who fell and hit the curb. The bruising was actually made worse by the fact that she had taken lots of aspirin not long before the injury.
(Photo from Bob & Jan Green's travel blog)

  • Bruises happen when something rams into you hard enough to cause capillaries or blood vessels to break, but your skin remains intact.
  • What we see as a bruise is actually the pooling of blood in one location under the skin.
  • The blood pools in this one spot because of clotting. When you get a cut and the blood eventually stops flowing and forms a scab, that's because the blood is able to clot faster than the blood flows. Same thing happens with a bruise. The blood vessels break, blood flows out, but then it begins to clot. What you see is the clotted blood, almost like a scab, under your skin.
  • People use the words "bruise," "contusion," and "hematoma" pretty interchangeably. I think we're dealing in shades of meaning, but I'm going to try to determine the difference.
  1. Contusion -- the thing that happened to cause the skin discoloration. The bonking and the visible signs that it has happened.
  2. Bruise -- layperson's term for the visible discoloration.
  3. Hematoma -- the pooling of blood under the skin. Sometimes a lot of blood can clot together and form almost a jelly-like mass. These types of hematomas can be quite severe and can take a several weeks to heal.

Kinds of Bruises

  • It is possible to get whacked in one spot and for the blood to trickle into another spot and pool up there.
  • One of these kinds of migrating bruises is called a "tramline" bruise. Say you get hit with a rod-shaped object, like a pipe. You would think that the bruise would show up exactly along that column where the pipe hit you, right? Not so. Actually, when the pipe pushes into the tissue, it forces the blood away from the impact, out to either side of where the pipe hit you. So you wind up with two parallel lines of bruises, or what looks like tram or train tracks.
  • A similar thing could happen if you get hit with something like a baseball. The bruise might show up in a circle around the spot where the ball actually hit you.

Bruise from a paintball. You can get an idea of the exact size and shape of the paintball from the darker discoloration around the spot where the ball struck him.
(Photo by Kev, from his Paintballin blog)

  • Any connective tissue can be bruised. This includes tendons, bones, and internal organs, as well as muscles.
  • Bone bruises can occur when two bones get rammed against each other, like as a result of a car accident, or when some object bangs into you where you don't have a lot of fat or muscle, and the bone takes the brunt of the impact.
  • In these cases, the impact is forceful enough to affect the tissue inside the bone and cause bleeding to occur in there. You probably won't see evidence of a bone bruise, since the bleeding has occurred inside the bone, not near the surface of the skin.

Color changes
  • If you've ever gotten a bruise, you know that as it heals and fades, it changes color. It might start out a livid purple or dark blue, and over time it will fade to greenish-blue, then to yellow, and disappear altogether.

Bruise from a dog bite, 10 minutes after the incident. Lots of swelling, color isn't really showing up much yet.

Same bruise, 5 hours later. Purple around the edges where the blood has collected the most, bright red at the center.

4 days later. It's begun to turn yellow at the center, where there was less blood collected to begin with. The outer edges will take the longest to fade.
(All 3 photos by Colleen AF Venable on Flickr)

  • What we think of as bruise "healing" is actually the slow removal of dried and decayed blood. White blood cells that show up in the area break apart those bits of old blood and carry them off. As they carry some bits away, other bits are left, and those different bits are what cause the changes in color.
  • What's interesting to me about this is that there's an order to this bruise healing business.
  • The purple, dark color is the hemoglobin. When the bruise first appears, that dark color is hemoglobin all over the place. Well, actually the dark color is the oxygen in the hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in your blood whose primary function is to carry oxygen around. Oxygen when it's contained under the skin appears blue.
  • After the white blood cells break down the hemoglobin, the next thing you can see is called biliverdin. This stuff is green (think of verdant pastures). This is actually a waste product that's left over after the hemoglobin in blood is broken down.
  • The biliverdin then gets broken down further and becomes bilirubin. This is yellow or sometimes yellowish brown.
  • Bilirubin is also a waste product. Normally, bilirubin gets carried to your liver and is excreted out in urine.
  • By the way, in some cases, a person might have more bilirubin than the liver can get rid of, and that's when you get jaundice. This is why people with diseased livers -- alcoholics -- tend to get lots of bruises that don't go away, and why people in advanced stages of alcoholism also get jaundiced. Too much bilirubin and the liver can't keep up.

The progression of color changes in a bruise as different chemical components in blood become more prevalent.
(Diagram from Dr. Bunn)

  • Researchers have tried to correlate the colors with ages of the bruise (some say, for example, that green or yellow equals about 18 hours old; others say yellow equals 4 days). But there are so many factors involved -- the rate at which an individual's blood circulates, blood pressure, temperature, even the time of day -- that it's very difficult to calculate a time of injury based on the color of a bruise.
  • All these colors can be more or less intense depending on the location of the blood vessels and the number of them that have been ruptured. The more blood vessels burst, the more blood that accumulates and the more vibrant the colors. Also, if the blood vessels are closer to the skin, the more pyrotechnic the bruise will appear to be.
  • This means that if you suffer a really severe impact at the deep tissue level, the bruise won't appear for several days. You might feel a lot of pain, but it is sometimes difficult for medical professionals to identify what it is because there is no visible sign of bruising right away.

Speeding Recovery

  • There isn't a whole lot you can do to make a bruise go away, except the old maxim, RICE:
  1. Rest
  2. Ice
  3. Compression
  4. Elevation.
  • Applying ice within the first 24 hours can sometimes help. This numbs the pain, and it also can reduce the swelling and slow bleeding.
  • If you do apply ice, make sure you're not putting ice directly on your skin (you can get frostbite). Instead, wrap the ice in a towel, or better yet, use a bag of frozen peas. The peas hold the cold but they are small enough that they can cluster around the shape of your arm or leg or whatever.

This guy is using a bag of frozen peas to ice his aching shoulder. But you could do something similar for a bruise.
(Photo by mare, from his blog called loglog)

  • Apply ice only for about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Following ice, it may help to wrap a bandage around the area. If it's especially tender, you may not want to include this step. Be careful not to wrap it too tight. If you feel throbbing, or especially if your skin is turning blue, it's too tight. Don't keep the bandage on overnight.
  • It may also help to elevate the place where the bruise occurred. The farther away from the heart it is, the more blood will rush to it, and the bigger the bruise could be. Elevating the bruised spot will lessen the amount of blood that accumulates there.
  • After a couple of days, it may help to apply heat. This will increase circulation to the area, get more white blood cells to show up and take away the dried-up stuff.
  • Some people say that Vitamin K works. Others say to try witch hazel. That's a topical ointment, and since the bruise is under the skin, that sounds like a lot of hogwash to me. Most medical professionals say there's no evidence anything like this has any effect.
  • Most bruises take about 1 to 2 weeks to heal.
  • Very deep tissue bruises can sometimes take up to 6 weeks to heal.
  • Some medications can make you more susceptible to bruises. Those types of medicines include:
  1. Aspirin
  2. Ibuprofen
  3. Naproxen (Aleve)
  4. Cortisone
  5. Asthma medications
  6. Anti-depressants
  7. Blood thinners (Warfarin or Coumadin, etc.)
  • Elderly people tend to bruise more easily because their skin is not as elastic, and they don't have as thick a layer of cushioning fat as they used to. So their blood vessels are more vulnerable to bumps and bangs.
  • Here's when it's time to go see the doctor about bruises:
  1. A bruise gets more painful over time, or is continuing to swell
  2. You're getting several bruises but you have no idea why
  3. You have a bruise near a joint and it hurts to move the joint
  4. The bruise is on or near your eye.

I know you didn't really need to see another photo of a bruise, but I thought this one was kind of funny, because she is smiling. This is Liz, and she got the black eye because she walked into her husband's blind spot while he was enthusiastically playing Zelda on his Wii and he accidentally hit her smack in the eye.
(Photo was from Wii Have a Problem, which seems to have gone 404. Reposted at Jonathan's Blog)

Medicine Net, Bumps & Bruises
TeensHealth, Bruises
Dorland's Medical Dictionary, contusion and hematoma
OneLook, hemoglobin
Wyoming Valley Health Care System, A Closer Look at Bruises
Forensic Medicine UK, Bruises / Contusions, Bruise
Health A to Z, Bruises, Sports Injuries, Bruises and hematomas
Fit Sugar, For Minor Bumps and Bruises Use R.I.C.E.
Net Wellness, Bone bruise, April 25, 2006 Blog, Deep Tissue Injury, September 24, 2008
NationMaster, Encyclopedia, Biliverdin, Bilirubin