What Are Red Kidney Beans?
- Called “kidney” because of shape
- Originated in Peru thousands of years ago
- Used in savory and sweet dishes all over the world
The Red Kidney Bean Story
Red kidney beans are thought to have originated in Peru. They’re part of a larger group called “common beans,” which were cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago. Common beans were spread by migrating tribes and served as an important protein source in the diets of the Indians of the Americas. Grown in Colonial America, kidney beans were cultivated by Acadian farmers in Louisiana in the late 1700s and planted by Spanish settlers. Haitians emigrating to New Orleans in the late 1700s brought spicy Caribbean recipes for beans and rice. Enslaved African plantation workers along the Mississippi River also ate meals of spicy red beans and rice.
In New Orleans and South Louisiana we love the red kidney bean so much we feel that we own it – but it’s an ingredient in cuisines worldwide. Rajma masala is a spicy Indian red bean stew, and red bean ice cream is a popular Asian dessert.
In New Orleans red beans and rice was prepared on Mondays for two reasons: 1) the dish could simmer on the stove all day while laundry was being washed, and 2) families typically had a large Sunday meal, often including ham, and the hambone or other leftover meat would be used to enhance the dish. New Orleans’ favorite son, jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, is said to have signed his letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours.”
Red beans hold their shape during cooking and, as a result, are perfect for simmered dishes. They are featured in chili, Caribbean red beans and rice, and many Indian dishes. They are also prepared in sweet delicacies such as habichuelas con dulce (sweet cream of beans). Red beans are versatile: they can be seasoned with sausage or ham, but can also be served vegetarian or vegan. When combined with rice, red beans make a complete protein source, and, therefore, are ideal as a substitute for meat. Red beans, like many kinds of legumes, must be fully boiled or otherwise cooked before being eaten as they contain natural toxins that are destroyed in the cooking process.