BEANS. This term is used in English in a wide sense to designate several plants (and their seeds) of different genera of the vast family Leguminosae. In this article it will be confined to the two genera Phaseolus (Tourn.) L. and Vigna Savi, i.e., to what is commonly called lūbīā in Persian (for broad bean, Vicia faba L., see bāqelā).

The Arabo-Persian word lūbīā, as currently applied to a great many types of Phaseolus vulgaris L., said by Dāwūd Anṭākī (d. 1008/1599), Taḏkera I, p. 247, to be of Hindi (Indian) origin (an assumption repeated by some later authors, e.g., Tonokābonī, Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn, pp. 772-73, and ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, Maḵzan al-­adwīa, pp. 384-85), or asserted by some modern authors to represent the Greek lóbia, borrowed into Arabic through Syriac (M. Meyerhof, commentary on Maimo­nides’ Šarḥ asmāʾ al-ʿoqqār, no. 210; cf. also Renaud and Colin, commentary on Toḥfat al-aḥbāb, no. 16, who consider the derivation from the Gk. lóbos [as used in Theophrastus] just possible), is, like the Gk. lóbia, ultimately derived from Akkadian lubbu (in Sumerian (LU.UB.ŠAR) according to M. Levey, introd., The Medical Formulary of al-Samarqandī, p. 16. Some dialectal names for lūbīā are recorded by Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-ṣaydana, p. 334 (Ar. text): rāžmūk [?] in the dialect of Termeḍ¯, farāmong [?] in Saǰzī (Sīstānī). Abū Bakr Kāšānī, in his Persian adaptation of the Ṣaydana (1st half of the 8th/14th cent.), says that “līā(ʾ) [an Ar. variant of lūbīā?] is called žā`mak [in Borhān-e qāṭeʿ II, ed. M. Moʿīn, žā`umak] by some Persians, fasūlon [?] in Roman, and ǰūlā, too” (fasūlon is a corruption of Lat. phaselus, Gk. phasēlos, which, ultimately, is the origin of the modem Ar. word for lūbīā, i.e. fāṣūlīā/fāṣūlīa); ǰūlā [?] seems to be an alteration of the Hindi čawlā, which, properly, is Vigna Catiang Endl.; see W. Dymock et al., Pharmacographia I, p. 499). Ḡond-māš, without dialec­tal specification, is also recorded in Borhān-e qāṭeʿ III, s.v.

Dioscorides’ Ketāb al-ḥašāʾeš II seems to be the oldest source of systematic knowledge about lūbīā in Islamic works, Arabic and Persian, on materia medica. As quoted by Ebn al-Bayṭār, al-Jāmeʿ I, pp. 112-13, lūbīā corresponds to Dioscorides’ smilaqz [actually, in Gk., smilax (chēpaia)], “the fruit of which some people call asfārāḡos [i.e., asparagos].” Then, Dioscorides, after a short botanical characterization which corresponds to that of some climbing variety of lūbīā, says that “[smilax] has pods . . . containing kidney-shaped grains [cf. “kidney-bean” in Engl.) of different colors: reddish, whitish, and blackish, . . . which, eaten like asparagus [helyawn], are diuretic” (but Aḥmad Ḡāfeqī, 1st half of the 6th/12th century, quoted by Ebn al-Bayṭār, ibid., says that “lūbīā is of two kinds, and the one with delicate, edible pods is called s(a)mīlaqz [misread or misprinted as s(a)mīlaqn in the text] in Greek”). The exact Greek form being unknown to most Arab and Persian authors, the arabicized form smylqz has been variously altered or misread by them and/or their copyists; syʾhyn-sīāhīn [?] in the printed text of Anṭākī, ibid., sylmyn-sīlmīn [?] in Tonokābonī, ibid., sylhyn-sīlhīn [?] in ʿAqīlī, ibid., etc. See, e.g., Dehḵodā, Loḡat-­nāma, s.v. lūbīā.

Considering that the present-day cultivated lūbīā, P. vulgaris, is native to Central and South America and that it was introduced into Europe only in the 16th century (cf., e.g., H. Leclerc, Légumes, p. 22, and Grand dictionnaire encyclopédique Larousse V, Paris, 1983, s.v. haricot), it would seem that the earliest references of Arabic-writing authors of the Islamic period to lūbīā, corresponding to the dolichos and lóbos in Theo­phrastus, and to smilax and phasēlos in Dioscorides, concerned other genera of Leguminosae (Dolichos, Lathyrus, and Vigna) of Asian origin (cf. Renaud and Colin, ibid., and M. Meyerhof, ibid.).

Whatever the botanical identity of these genera of lūbīā in the Mediterranean basin and in the Middle­ East, early works on medicine and materia medica (both Western and Eastern) seem to have considered lūbīā varieties a medicinal plant rather than a food plant. Some of the properties of lūbīā, as expounded by the Classical authors quoted by Ebn al-Bayṭār, ibid., are as follows: Lūbīā is a moderate “coolant” (mobarred), a diuretic; it fills the head with “vapor”, and, if eaten raw, induces bad, frightening dreams (author of al-Felāḥa [Qoṣtos al-Rūmī?]); it is “warm” and “moist” [Galeni­cally speaking], the red variety being “warmer”; it acts as emmenagogue when taken with nard oil and gal­banum (Ebn Māsūya, d. 243/857); it is very flatulent, and, therefore, not only is it unfit for the stomach but it nauseates too, and fills the head with vapors (Rāzī, d. 313/925); it is less flatulent than broad bean (but more so than vetch), more easily digestible and not less nutritive than it; it is good for the chest and lungs (Ebn Sīnā, d. 428/1037); the water in which red lūbīā is cooked cleanses the body from puerperal blood, causes the expulsion of dead fetuses and the afterbirth (Ḡāfeqī). Aḵawaynī Boḵārī (d. ca. 373/983?), author of the oldest extant medical treatise in Persian, Hedāyat al-­motaʿallemīn, ed. J. Matīnī, mentions lūbīā (without qualification) along with emetic drugs such as nux vomica, and horseradish (torb) seeds (p. 637), red or black lūbīā among “warm” foodstuffs (p. 520), and red lūbīā in two different emmenagogic decoctions (pp. 522, 523). For a full account (in Persian) of lūbīā’s virtues, uses, and harmful effects, see ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, loc. cit., who, however, does not specify his sources.

In our time in Iran the common lūbīā, P. vulgaris, is used only for food. There are two main forms of consumption: 1. whole lūbīās (green pods containing immature seeds), cooked and used in various indigenous or Western-style dishes, and 2. mature seeds (also called lūbīā), cooked and preserved, or directly used in the preparation of some dishes. Not all the varieties of lūbīā may be used for both purposes (see below). Following is a short description of cultivated lūbīā varieties coming under P. vulgaris, and of a single species under Vigna. (For wild genera and/or species, all native to Baluchistan, namely Phaseolus aconitifolius Jacq., P. mungo L., Vigna Catiang Endl., Cajanus indicus Spreng. [locally called arhar], Rhynchosia mem­nonia Del., and R. minima DC., see A. Parsa, Flore II, pp. 469-73.)

(a) There exist numerous cultivars or hybrid strains of P. vulgaris in Iran, some of them now taken for “native,” and some others labeled as “imported” or “foreign”; only the commonest “native” varieties will be mentioned here (for a full account, see M. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Applied Botany I, forthcoming); 1. lūbīāčītī (chintz-like), sometimes also called l. qazvīnī, cultivated mainly in Āstārā and Qazvīn for its relatively large pinkish variegated seeds; 2. the same, having pink or red seeds with lighter patterns on them, mainly grown in Sarāb both for its seeds and pods; 3. l. marmarī or safīd (marmorean or white), grown both for its pods and for its white seeds in southern Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermānšāh, Hamadān, Malāyer, Isfahan, etc.; 4. l. qermez (red bean), kidney-bean, grown mainly in Ḵūzestān, Shiraz, and Marvdašt for its pods and­—more importantly—for its seeds; 5. l. darham (lit. “mixed-up beans”), having smallish variegated seeds, grown for its seeds in Isfahan, Kāšān, Ḵᵛānsār and Arāk; 6. l. pīāzī (onion-colored), cultivated for its dainty buff seeds mainly in Āstārā; 7. l. taryākī (opium-­colored), probably of foreign provenance, grown both for its seeds and pods in Gīlān (Rašt, Ṣawmeʿa-sarā, Fūmanāt); 8. l. ʿadasī (lentil-colored), probably a rather recent crop, grown for both its seeds and pods.

(b) Lūbīāčašm-bolbolī (nightingale-eyed; called sīā(h)-čašm “blackeyed” in Qazvīn; cf. the older sīāh-čašmak below), blackeye (bean), Vigna sinensis Endl. (whitish or cream-colored seeds having a white-centered black hilum), is extensively cultivated in Iran only for its seeds in many places in Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Khora­san, Qazvīn, Zanjān, etc.

Culinary uses. In a cookbook of the Safavid period, Kār-nāma, written in 927/1520-21 by a certain Moḥammad-ʿAlī “the Cook from Baghdad” for a grandee of the time of Shah Esmāʿīl ī, ed. Ī. Afšār, pp. 53-­54, dried lūbīā seeds are used as a minor component of a boḡrā (a sort of āš-e rešta, see below) called moraṣṣaʿ (bejeweled boḡrā), and in another opuscule of the same period, Māddat al-ḥayāt, written in 1003/1594-95 by a certain Nūr-Allāh, cook at the court of Shah ʿAbbās I, ed. Ī. Afšār, p. 246, lūbīā as well as sīāh-čašmak (the little black-eyed one, i.e., blackeye bean) figure among the grains to be used in the so called āš-e Āšūrā (the āš [to be cooked and doled out on the occasion of the mourning day] of ʿĀšūrāʾ). Modern cookbooks offer a far greater number of uses for lūbīā. Some larger varieties of lūbīā seeds, especially kidney-beans and čītī beans, canned or freshly cooked, referred to as lūbīā(-ye) poḵta (cooked beans), are eaten by themselves with appropriate seasoning as a relatively cheap snack, or added to some salads. Marmarī beans are one of the ingredients of the popular āb-gūšt (a kind of broth containing, beside meat, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and chickpeas, with turmeric as the principal spice). Blackeyes are used mainly in ḵᵛoreš(t)-e qorma-sabzī (a kind of stew meant to be eaten with pilaf, composed mainly of finely chopped specific herbs, meat, and this kind of beans, to which some people prefer the daintier kidney-beans), in a kind of lūbīā-polow (a pilaf cooked only with dill and these beans), and in some āšes, especially āš(-e) rešta (a kind of very popular pottage, the main ingredient of which is rešta, i.e., strips of dough, but nowadays usually replaced by commercial spaghetti), and āš-e šola-qalamkār (a hotchpotch composed of meat, onions, rice, vegetables, vetches, chickpeas, lentils, and these beans). Green lūbīā pods (with still unripe seeds), referred to as lūbīā-sabz/-tāza (green/fresh beans), form the specific component of lūbīā-polow (a pilaf also containing dill and minced meat, seasoned with some tomato juice), ḵᵛoreš(t)-e lūbīā (a kind of stew meant to be eaten with pilaf, the specific ingredient being chopped lūbīā-sabz), and one of the principal compo­nents of some stews to be eaten without pilaf.



Īraj Afšār, ed., Āšpazī-e dawra-ye ṣafawī. Matn-e do resāla az ān dawra [Kār-nāma wa Māddat al-ḥayāt], Tehran, 1360 Š./1981.

Abū Bakr Rabīʿ b. Aḥmad Aḵawaynī Boḵārī, Hedāyat al-motaʿallemīn fi’l-ṭebb, ed. Jalāl Matīnī, Mašhad, 1344 Š./1965.

Dāwūd Anṭākī, Taḏkerat ūli’l-albāb wa’l-jāmeʿ le’l-ʿajab al-ʿojāb, 2 vols., Cairo, 1308-09/1890-­91.

Moḥammad-Ḥosayn ʿAqīlī Ḵorāsānī, Maḵzan al-­adwīa, offset reprint, Tehran, 1349 Š./1970? from the litho. ed., Tehran, 1276/1859-60.

Abū Rayḥān Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-ṣaydana, ed. Mohammed Said and Rana Ehsan Elahie, Al-Bīrūnī’s Book on Pharmacy & Materia Medica, Karachi, 1973.

William Dymock, C. J. H. Warden, and David Hooper, Pharmacographia Indica, 3 vols., London etc., 1890-93.

Ebn al-Bayṭār, al-Jāmeʿ le-mofradāt al-adwīa wa’l-aḡḏīa, 4 pts. in 2 vols., Būlāq, 1291/1874.

Abū Bakr b. ʿAlī Kāšānī, tr. and adaptation of Bīrūnī’s Ketāb al-ṣaydana, ed. M. Sotūda and Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1979.

Henri Leclerc, Les légumes de France; leur histoire, leurs usages alimentaires, leurs vertus thérapeutiques, Paris, 1927.

Ebn Maymūn (Moses Maimonides), Šarḥ asmāʾ al-ʿoqqār, ed. Max Meyerhof, Cairo, 1940. Ahmad Parsa, Flore de l’Iran II, Tehran, 1948.

Najīb-al-Dīn Moḥammad Samarqandī, The Medical Formulary of Al-Samarqandi, tr. and annot. by Martin Levey and Noury Al-Khaledy, Philadelphia, 1967.

Moḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʾī, Applied Botany for Agriculture and Natural Resources I: Plants for Extensive Cultivation (in Persian, forthcoming).

Moḥammad-Moʾmen Ḥosaynī Tonokābonī, Toḥfat al-moʾmenīn, Tehran, 1360 Š./1981.

Toḥfat al-aḥbāb, ed. and tr. H. P. J. Renaud and George S. Colin, Paris, 1934.

(Hūšang Aʿlam)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 1, pp. 67-69