Legumes (peas and beans) are a much maligned food in this part of the world. When I ask fellow Zimbabweans why they don’t enjoy eating beans apart from the obvious comments about them causing gas, tasting boring and taking a long time to cook, I regularly hear complaints such as “they remind me of boarding school” or “they are what we get as food aid during a drought.” In other parts of the Southern African region and indeed throughout most of the rest of Africa, legumes are a celebrated component of traditional cuisine. In Mozambique and Malawi, for example, apart from regularly eating sugar beans and cowpeas, pigeon pea is widely consumed on an almost daily basis.

Legume cultivation in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean farmers can grow several delicious legumes including cowpeas and nyimo beans (also called bambara nuts roundnuts and ground nuts). Groundnuts continue to be a popular crop and thankfully peanut butter remains a highly popular, nutritious component of Zimbabwe’s traditional diet. A few people grow pigeon peas and climbing legumes such as Madagascar bean and Lablab bean. Unfortunately all of these traditional nutritious, drought resistant legumes are being replaced by the sugar bean which requires more inputs to grow and is less drought tolerant. Still, any legume is better than no legume and apart from their contribution to the diet, legumes play a vital role in soil improvement when rotated with other crops.

Nutritional value

Legumes are rich sources of protein and can be used to substitute meat if one is a vegetarian or on a tight budget. Omnivores should also eat beans regularly as part of a healthy balanced diet. Apart from protein, legumes also contain carbohydrates and are a good source of important micronutrients including iron, folate, thiamin, manganese and magnesium. They are also an excellent source of dietary fibre which is important for healthy bowel function, maintaining blood glucose levels, reducing risks of some types of cancer, coronary heart disease and helping with weight management.

Better ways to cook legumes

So if you are now sold on the idea of eating legumes you will want to know about some improved ways to cook them. Firstly in order to reduce the ‘gas’ problem you can improve the situation greatly by soaking the cleaned, dried legumes overnight in clean water. Before cooking, discard the soaking water and then boil the beans in fresh, clean water. The soaking will not only reduce the gas causing component but they will reduce the cooking time. You can eliminate the gas causing substances even more effectively by scooping off and removing the frothy scum which forms on the surface of the beans while they boil. If you eat beans regularly your body will become adapted to them and after a couple of weeks of eating beans you will no longer have a gas problem.

Check out the recipe section for some exciting new and traditional ways to cook legumes.