Thanks to a recent scientific study, beans finally are getting the culinary respect they deserve. Although researchers haven’t come up with a foolproof way to avoid the more “musical” and indelicate side effect of beans, they have found yet another reason why you should eat more of them. In addition to their high protein and fiber content, a new study finds that beans, particularly black ones, are a rich but overlooked source of antioxidants and may provide health benefits similar to some common fruits, including grapes, apples and cranberries.
In a study that appeared in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers tested the antioxidant activity of flavonoids — plant pigments — found in the skin of 12 common varieties of dry beans. Antioxidants destroy free radicals, which are highly active chemicals whose excess has been linked to heart disease, cancer and aging.
The finding adds antioxidants to a growing list of healthy chemicals found in the popular legume, which also is rich in protein, carbohydrates, folate, calcium and fiber. The researchers hope to use information gleaned from this study to help develop new varieties of beans that pack even more disease-fighting power.
Black beans came out on top, having more antioxidant activity, gram for gram, than other beans, followed by red, brown, yellow and white beans, in that order. In general, darker color seed coats were associated with higher levels of flavonoids, and therefore higher antioxidant activity, says lead investigator Clifford W. Beninger, Ph.D., a research associate at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
“Black beans are really loaded with antioxidant compounds. We didn’t know they were that potent until now,” says Beninger, formerly a researcher with the USDA’s Sugarbeet and Bean Research Unit, located at Michigan State University in East Lansing, where he worked on the project under the leadership of co-author George L. Hosfield, Ph.D., a geneticist who recently retired from the USDA.
Beninger acknowledges that some of the healthy antioxidants in beans will be lost in water upon cooking, but says that antioxidant levels will still remain high. Although dry beans were used in this study, frozen or canned beans may have similar antioxidant activity, he adds.
Americans gobble up an estimated 8 pounds of beans per person each year, with pinto beans and navy beans being the most popular. Red beans also enjoy immense popularity, particularly during colder months, as a staple of chili. Although not as popular in the U.S. as other varieties, black beans are a main ingredient in many international dishes. Try using canned black beans in this recipe for Toots, a healthy, no-cook, chocolate treat. Each square contains 19 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber and approximately 104 calories. Toots are the perfect little afternoon energizer and a great lunchbox snack.
No one will be the wiser that this sweet treat contains beans. Black beans provide this dessert with a deep chocolate color and a smooth texture similar to a fudge brownie. Pinto beans can be substituted for black beans, if desired. Makes 12 (2-inch) squares.
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup cocoa powder
1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups (1 package of 9 crackers) honey graham-cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Using a mixer or in the bowl of a food processor, puree beans with 1/3 cup of butter until smooth. Add remainder of butter, cocoa, powdered sugar, graham cracker crumbs and vanilla. Pulse 3 minutes until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Mix in 1/2 cup of nuts, reserving the rest to sprinkle on top. Mix until blended.
Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with parchment, plastic wrap or wax paper with the ends overlapping the sides. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Sprinkle on the remaining nuts. Place the overlapping pieces of the parchment or wax paper over the mixture. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, and cut into 2-inch squares. Wrap the individual pieces with plastic wrap and store in an air-tight container.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of six cookbooks. Her latest cookbook is “The New African-American Kitchen.” She is known as The Kitchen Diva and is the executive producer and host of “The Kitchen Diva!” cooking show on Hulu.com. Visit her Web site at www.divapro.com. Her new inspirational book is “Ten Ingredients for a Joyous Life and a Peaceful Home — A Spiritual Memoir,” co-written with Pastor Salem Robinson, Jr. (www.dunnsmemorial.com).
© 2010 King Features Synd., Inc.