If you’ve ever wondered if green beans belong in the fruit or vegetable family, this article will answer that for you. You’ll also learn about why they’re sometimes referred to as “string beans” and how they got their name. So whether you want an interesting factoid on your next trip through the produce aisle or just need some basic information before heading off to work, keep reading!
What are green beans classified as?
Green beans are botanically speaking plants, but more specifically they are part of the plant group known as Leguminosae. This means that like other legumes such as peas, lentils, and peanuts, they have pods containing seeds inside them. The reason these particular plants get grouped together has to do with how they grow — all three types sprout from underground stems called rhizomes. Green beans actually use their roots to draw moisture up out of the soil toward the leaves above ground.
Legumes can be found growing across most of the world, except Antarctica (where there’s not much dirt). They tend to prefer temperate climates and thrive best when temperatures range between 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsuis).
However, green beans don’t require ideal conditions to survive. In reality, they can withstand lower humidity levels than many other crops because they spend so much time soaking up water from the surrounding air.
One thing to note about green beans is that while it’s true that they are technically a type of root crop, we often refer to them by another common term used to describe them — string beans. And even though some people might think this refers only to size, others believe it was coined because one way to prepare them would resemble picking strings out of spaghetti sauce. But what exactly does “stringing” mean?
It depends on where you live. If you grew up near any city in the United States, Canada, or Mexico then you probably know that in those areas string beans refer to long, thin varieties of green beans. On the contrary, people living in parts of Europe may call thinner versions of green beans string beans. As far as Asia goes, the same thing applies. Some regions in China refer to medium-sized green beans as “jumping beans,” which gives us yet another example of regional naming differences.
Now that you know what kind of plants green beans are, let’s talk about whether or not they qualify as being considered fruits or veggies.
Are green beans fruits or vegetables?
This is a tough question because although both categories contain edible items, neither contains everything else included in the other category. To help figure out the difference between the two, first consider what makes something a veggie. Vegetables typically aren’t eaten alone; instead, they usually appear in recipes along side ingredients that provide flavor and texture. When preparing meals made with vegetables, cooks rarely include meat or dairy products. Although there are exceptions, generally speaking, foods that fall into the vegetable category taste better without seasoning added to them. For instance, raw carrots have no distinct flavors of salt, pepper or herbs, whereas cooked potatoes still retain their own natural earthy tastes.
On the flipside, fruits take center stage during preparation. Fruits are meant to serve as main components of dishes rather than background players that add color and texture. Because of this distinction, fruits are typically seasoned heavily once they reach our plates. Take strawberries, for example. A bowl of fresh strawberries doesn’t really taste like anything unless you dip each berry individually in sugar syrup.
Or try peaches, plums or mangoes. Even after getting rid of the skins, pits and stones, you won’t find very many distinctive flavors coming from a whole peach, plum or mango. Instead, the majority of the sweetness comes from cooking.
So now that we know what distinguishes fruits from vegetables, let’s look at green beans again. While they certainly don’t fit perfectly within either of these categories, they seem to lean closer towards the vegetable end of things.
Here are some reasons why:
They’re high in fiber. Like broccoli, spinach and cabbage, green beans pack plenty of dietary fiber. Fiber helps keep digestion moving smoothly, allowing nutrients absorbed throughout the meal to travel efficiently through the digestive tract. Fiber also regulates blood glucose levels. Eating enough fiber can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by preventing spikes in insulin production following meals.
They’re full of antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent free radicals from destroying cells. Free radicals cause cell damage leading to cancer and heart disease. By eating lots of antioxidant-rich foods, including green beans, you can protect yourself against diseases caused by free radical activity.
They contain folate. Folates help transform vitamins B9 and B12 into coenzymes essential for healthy red blood cell development. These coenzymes are also important for making energy from carbohydrates. Without adequate amounts of folate, individuals could experience fatigue, memory loss and depression.
They’re low in calories. Since they’re primarily composed of water, green beans offer few calories compared to other similar foods. One cup of cooked green beans provides around 100 calories and 6 grams of protein. That’s less than half the number of calories and 3 1/2 times the amount of protein packed into a serving of french fries. Another plus is that unlike larger sources of protein like beef, pork or poultry, green bean consumption doesn’t increase cholesterol levels.
In addition, green beans can be enjoyed alongside various meats and fish as well as grains and pasta. In fact, some chefs claim they make great crudités served with dips or spreads, particularly guacamole.
Next, we’ll explore what category green beans belong in.
What food category is a green bean?
After learning what makes green beans unique among other foods, we should head back over to the original question – what food category does a green bean fall under? We already determined that they’re botanical plants, but since they’re grown below ground level, it’s easy to forget that they actually share traits with certain types of animals. First off, green beans are categorized as pulses, which are defined as legumes intended to be consumed by humans directly. Other examples of pulses include lentils, chickpeas and black-eyed peas. Pulses are also different from nuts, seeds or oils due to the fact that they’re harvested before ripe and are therefore slightly immature. Also, some pulse members, such as lentils, split open easily when soaked.
Vegetable classification isn’t quite as straightforward as it is for fruits and pulses. Unlike its cousin, the word “vegetable” describes foods that come from plants. However, not every item labeled as a vegetable is necessarily safe to eat. There are several groups of edible plants that are commonly confused for vegetables, but experts agree that none of them deserve to sit in the vegetable section. Let’s start with fruits, which consist of sweet substances produced by trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Included in fruits are berries, citrus fruits, melons, pears and bananas. Next, we’ll discuss vines, which include cucumbers, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes. Then there are leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and collards. Finally, flowering plants such as onions, garlic and shallots round out the list of non-edible plant-based foods mistakenly thought of as vegetables.
To wrap up, Green beans are fruits; but just like tomatoes, this food is categorized as a vegetable Their botanical identity puts them firmly in the middle of the spectrum, but they definitely possess characteristics of both fruits and vegetables. Now that you understand why they get lumped in with beans, you can enjoy them as part of a nutritious diet loaded with fiber, antioxidants and folate. Plus, you can experiment with adding them to salads, soups, sandwiches and stir fry dishes. Just remember to rinse away the debris and soak them overnight to soften any fibrous bits.