Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

Botanically, bean pods are indeed fruits; honestly, beans are also pretty magical. And we’re clearly not the only ones to think that: beans are the unsung hero of history. The fact that they were domesticated an astonishing seven different times in different places shows how essential beans were to early humans all over the world; in Europe, Italian author and polymath Umberto Eco credits the bean with saving civilization itself. Lately, however, the humble bean has found fewer fans. In Northern Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, most people barely eat beans at all. This episode—our love song to beans—we're exploring the story of the bean's fall from grace, as well as the heirloom varieties and exclusive club that are making beans cool again. Plus, we visit with the Ugandan breeder working on Beans 2.0, which will take a third less time to cook. But can anybody do anything about the fart issue? Listen in as we spill the beans on one of our favorite foods.

Episode Notes

Ken Albala

Ken Albala is a food historian and professor at the University of the Pacific. You may remember him from our episode, How Ketchup Got Thick. He has authored more than 25 books on food, including Beans: A History.

A rainbow of some of the beautiful—and delicious!—heirloom beans bred at UC-Davis. (Image by Travis Parker)

Paul Gepts

Paul Gepts is a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of California-Davis focused on the crop agrobiodiversity of beans. While in Davis, we also met with Paul's colleagues, assistant professor Christine Diepenbrock and postdoctoral researcher Travis Parker: we've saved the story of the special beans they've been working on for our supporters-only newsletter. Sign up here!

Steve Sando & Rancho Gordo

Steve Sando is the founder of Rancho Gordo, a California-based producer of specialty heirloom beans.

Steve Sando in his early days, hawking beans at the farmer's market. (Image courtesy of Rancho Gordo)

Clare Mukankusi

Clare Mukankusi is a bean breeder for the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Kampala, Uganda.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics

This episode of Gastropod was supported by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics. Check out the other books, movies, shows, podcasts, and more that they support here.

Umberto Eco's bean paean

Bean stan Eco took to the pages of the Gray Lady to explain "How the Bean Saved Civilization."


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