Are Fava beans safe to eat?

“Hi Georgie, I found these great beans, fava beans, which I want to learn how to cook, but when I told my husband what I had bought he said that he wouldn’t eat them because he had heard that fava beans could kill you. Is this true? Do you have any recipes which make them safe to eat?”

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Thanks for the question. Fava beans (also known as broad beans) aren’t all that common in the U.S., but are a staple in many other parts of the world. One thing is for sure, preparing the fresh beans (which come in pods 5-7″ long that look not unlike gigantic string beans) is a labor-intensive process! Each pods has to be cut open to remove the beans, which can then be simply boiled for 3-5 minutes in salted water.

After boiling, the beans have to be removed from their white skins. From 5 pounds of pods, you get about 3 cups of cooked peeled beans. Each cup of the cooked, shelled beans provides 187 calories, 1 g fat, 33 g carbohydrate (9 g fiber), and 13 g protein. They also contain lots of folate (44% of your daily needs!), and minerals manganese (36%), copper (22%), phosphorus (21%), magnesium (18), iron (14%)… definitely a highly nutritious food!

If all that shelling and blanching and peeling is a turnoff, you can also buy fava beans dried, either with or without the white papery skins. To prep dried beans: place 1 cup dried beans in a large pot with 5 cups of water and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow them to sit for an hour to soak in the hot water. Then, simmer the pot for 30-45 minutes or until tender. The cooked beans can be used for salads, or pureed to make spreads. Or, keep things simple and just enjoy them with a sprinkle of sea salt in their natural glory.

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On to your concern about safety. It is true that for a percentage of the population with an inherited enzyme deficiency, eating fava beans can cause a deadly hemolytic anemia. The condition is known as favism, or glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency. (While all people who have favism have G6PD deficiency, not all people with G6PD deficiency have favism.) People with this condition must avoid fava beans, some other legumes, and many drugs including sulfa antibiotics and quinine. People most at risk for inheriting this condition are Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean descent, but it only affects men. Women can be carriers, but would be not have the same dangerous reaction to fava beans. Most people with this condition woudl know it by their adult lives, but if you want to find out if your husband is affected, you can get a simple blood test.

That said, it’s obviously not the recipe that makes fava beans safe to eat – so feel free to try any recipe you find appealing! Personally, Ive never made them (though now I’m inspired to!) but Ocean Mist has some yummy suggestions. And if possible, send a pic of your recipe!

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