Speckled with crimson and pearl, borlotti beans are both beautiful and nourishing. They are native to South America but have found their way to plates and bowls around the world. Borlotti beans impart a smooth, nutty flavor to countless main and side dishes. However, these legumes bring much more to the table than good taste and bulk: they are a generous source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Recent extensive research has highlighted how borlotti beans can enhance heart, gut, nerve, and blood health. Add borlotti beans to your diet for a tasty boost of health benefits.
Mottled red and white borlotti beans go by various names, including cranberry beans, French horticultural beans, and romano beans. Fresh beans come in inedible shells with the same colors. The taste of cooked borlotti beans is reminiscent of chestnuts. The beans turn a pale brown color and develop a creamy, meaty texture when cooked. They are popular in salads, soups, and stews, and prominent in Italian and Portuguese cuisine. They often replace pinto beans in Mexican recipes.
Proteins are critical components in many biological functions. These large molecules are the workhorses in our cells, responsible for the structure and regulation of organs and tissues. Diets high in this nutrient can contribute to satiety, weight loss, and muscle strength. Borlotti beans rank among the top legumes for protein content. They provide each of the nine essential amino acids that we can require from foods, as our bodies cannot produce them. One cup of cooked borlotti beans has 17 grams of protein.
Researchers at the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School found that consuming plant-based proteins such as legumes helps reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease. Borlotti beans are rich in potassium and folate, nutrients that help relax blood vessels. The food is also low in sodium, a mineral that can, in excess, contribute to hypertension.
Borlotti beans are loaded with nondigestible components and phenolic compounds that can help mitigate intestinal diseases. A 2016 animal study published by the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reports that these beans enhance gut barrier function and microbial activity. Mice that consumed flour made from borlotti beans experienced less severe colitis, as well. Borlotti beans are rich in dietary fiber, providing 18 grams per cup. Soluble fiber helps promote satiety and curb overeating. Insoluble fiber scrubs out the digestive tract and helps regulate bowel movements.
Folate regulates amino acids critical to the nervous system. Research suggests that folate deficiency may lead to elevated homocysteine levels, a marker of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and neurodegenerative illnesses. Such deficiency in pregnant women could result in neural tube defects in infants. One cup of borlotti beans provides 92 percent of the recommended daily value of folate.
The glycemic index system ranks foods based on their potential to cause rapid elevations and drops in blood glucose and insulin levels. Borlotti beans rank at only 14 out of 250 on the glycemic index scale. The fiber in these legumes makes the body digest them slowly to help prevent sugar and insulin spikes and crashes.
Our bodies produce millions of red blood cells every day. We need to consume foods rich in iron, copper, folate, and other nutrients to form new, healthy cells. A one-cup serving of borlotti beans provides 21 percent of the recommended daily value of iron and 20 percent of the recommended daily value of copper.
When shopping for fresh borlotti beans, look for plump, red-speckled and tan pods. You may find them at farmers’ markets. Some grocery stores carry dried and canned beans; online vendors are another source. Whether you purchase fresh or dried beans, you will need to sort them thoroughly to avoid shriveled or moldy pieces. To store fresh pods or beans, keep them refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to four days. Removing beans from shells will be easier if you allow the pods to dry out for one or two days. Store dried beans in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and moisture.
Dried borlotti beans contain high amounts of phytic acid, an antinutrient that can limit absorption of nutrients and cause digestive upset. Soaking before cooking the beans breaks down phytic acid and makes the beans easier to digest.
To soak borlotti beans:
Make borlotti beans a part of your menu of side dishes or vegetarian entrees. You can incorporate their velvety, nutty taste into a variety of recipes. They make an ideal substitute for kidney, pinto, navy, or white beans and have a distinctive flavor that shines through in both hot and cold dishes.
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