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Bambara beans are chickpea sized, hard, round seeds that, like peanuts, ripen underground. The seeds vary in color from black, dark brown, red, white, cream or a combination of these colors. Bambara beans have a nutty, earthy flavor not unlike a cross between a chickpea and a pinto bean.
Bambara beans are available year-round. The plants can be harvested for the seeds four months after sowing. The dried seeds can keep indefinitely in a cool, dry place.
Bambara (Vigna subterranea) is known to grow in unfavorable conditions and is drought tolerant, which makes it a good choice for farmers in low water areas with poor soil qualities. The plant has the ability to fix nitrogen from the air making it a good companion in crop rotations. It is often planted with pumpkin and maize. It is the third most commonly eaten legume in Africa, after groundnuts and cowpeas. The plant is a creeping, herbaceous, leafy annual with compound leaves comprised of three leaflets. After fertilization, pale yellow flowers form on freely branching stems. These stems then grow downwards into the soil, sending the developing seed into the ground. The seeds form round, wrinkled half inch long pods just underground within which the smooth, round, hard Bambara seeds develop. Each pod contains one or two seeds.
Bambara beans are considered highly nutritious, and have been termed a complete food. They consist of about 65% carbohydrates, 18% protein, and are rich in essential amino acids including isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and valine. Its chemical composition is comparable to that of the soy bean.
Bambara beans are prepared in a number of ways. They can be eaten fresh or boiled after drying. They are roasted or fried and mixed with maize or plantains. They can be ground into a flour and used to prepare porridge. The flour is used as a thickener in soups or added into bread dough for extra nutrition. Milk can be made from the beans. A fermented product similar to tempeh can be prepared. Large seeds are used as a pulse and the smaller seeds are more often used to make the flour. The seeds can be extracted for oil as well. While the seeds are canned commercially in some African countries most production of Bambara beans are eaten locally.
Bambara has several names throughout Africa, including earth pea, jugo bean, pois de terre, pois Bambara, and Bambara groundnut. It is a hardy plant, able to withstand high temperatures and dry conditions and is considered to be a very important crop throughout Africa. In addition to being an important food crop, it is also used in a number of medicinal applications.
Bambara is thought to find its center of origin in West Africa, in Nigeria and Cameroon. It is cultivated today throughout Africa. It is also grown to a lesser extent in India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
Recipes that include Bambara. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Marie's Pastiche||Tamales and Bean Stew|
|The Guardian||Bambara Bean Stew|