Bean research - A Legume a Day

Bean Research – Insights About Food Habits

We just published our recent paper on the creation of an Extension Bean Toolkit – yay! This was an important part of my PhD work, and I will share additional details about this bean research in a separate post soon. Here, I wanted to start by sharing some of the insights from the Food Habits Survey we conducted as part of this project, as they relate to how and why people like to eat beans and other pulses.

Bean Research - bean survey results

Food Habits Survey – How and Why People Like to Eat Beans

The goal of this project was to develop a Bean Toolkit – or a collection of educational program resources that focus on beans – with Colorado State University (CSU) Extension. To help ensure I was designing resources that would be helpful and of interest to people, I conducted the Food Habits Survey. We got 940 responses – thank you to everyone who participated in the survey!

In this post, I will go through some of the main survey results. You can find more details in the full paper, linked to at the bottom of this post.

How Often Do People Eat Beans?

For the group of people who completed the survey, the most frequent response was that they eat beans and other pulses “1-3 days per week” (~47% of respondents selected this answer). I know 1-3 days per week may seem like a big range. A benefit of providing response options as ranges is that it is often easier to answer this than to provide an exact number. However, it does also make it harder to know exactly how often people eat beans, and the actual amounts eaten.

There were four different response options for dietary pattern: omnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan. The majority of people who took the survey were omnivores, ~72%. When we looked at how often people ate beans, vegans had the highest average frequency of consumption (Table 2 in the paper). This is not surprising, as we know that beans are rich in protein, and vegans and vegetarians especially will be looking for foods packed with plant protein. However, as with all studies, it is important to not leap to too strong of a conclusion – the particular survey question we used does not provide details on the exact amount of beans eaten, and our findings are not generalizable to a worldwide audience. Nevertheless, it supports that vegans could likely be eating beans more often.

How Do People Prepare Beans?

We asked about how people prepare beans, for instance if they have cooked dry beans before, if they soak beans, and what cooking method they use.

Most people (~94%) indicated they had cooked with dry pulses (e.g., beans, chickpea, dry peas, lentils) at least once. As we state in the paper, “This is a high percentage and may represent a bias or limitation. However, the question only asked whether participants had cooked dry pulses at least once. Thus, it is not clear what percentage of these 882 respondents regularly cook dry pulses versus how many have only cooked dry pulses once or a few times.”

Most people who indicated they have cooked dry pulses at least once said that they soak beans. Of the 882 individuals who said they have cooked dry pulses before, 230 responded that they soak beans “Very often (81-100% of the time).” Most people who soak beans indicated that they discard the soaking water and cook in fresh water.

The most common cooking method that people selected was stovetop, followed by slow cooker and electric cooker (like an Instant Pot). Oven and traditional pressure cooker were less commonly used cooking methods by our survey participants. Some people used salt when cooking, and others avoided it. There appeared to be confusion about if salt helps beans cook faster, or if it prevents them from softening. To help mitigate any potential confusion, we addressed this topic in the handout we created with tips to help beans cook faster.

What Types of Pulses Do People Like?

We asked people about how much they liked the following pulses:

  • Chickpeas
  • Cowpeas (often called “black-eyed peas”)
  • Dry beans (like pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, etc.)
  • Dry peas
  • Lentils

Can you guess what pulse ranked the highest?? Table 3 in the paper shares results.

Table 3 - favorite types of pulses
This and all tables come from our paper: Didinger, C., Bunning, M., & Thompson, H. (2023). A Translational Approach to Increase Pulse Intake and Promote Public Health through Developing an Extension Bean Toolkit. Nutrients15(19), 4121.

As you can see, dry beans ranked the highest, followed by chickpeas. Survey respondents were the least familiar with cowpeas/black-eyed peas, with the highest number of individuals indicating that they have not tried this type of pulse before.

Another question asked people about how they have eaten beans within the last year. Respondents could select multiple options from a list, and response counts are shown in Table 4 below. Mixing beans with other grains, like a beans and rice dish, was a common way to eat beans, as were dips, soups, and chili. The least common way respondents ate beans was in desserts. This highlights to importance of showcasing all the different ways we can enjoy beans, making it easier to include them throughout the day.

Table 4 - what bean dishes do people eat

Why Do People Eat Beans?

There are so many wonderful reasons to eat beans, from nutrition and health benefits to all the wins for the environment. Those filling out the survey selected how important the following nutritional attributes of beans were to them. Table 5 shows that protein was rated the highest, followed by the high-fiber content of beans.

Table 5 - reasons to eat beans

When asked about other other reasons to eat beans (as in, not just nutritional attributes),Table 6 shows that taste was the winner. After taste, health benefits had the next highest average importance score. The gluten-free nature of beans did not appear to be very important to most people, which could be because gluten-free is more of a niche market.

Table 6 - reasons to eat beans

Why Don’t People Cook Beans?

We also asked respondents if any of the following reasons has ever prevented them from cooking with dry beans. As shown in Table 7, the long cooking times of dry beans was the major barrier, followed by being unsure how to cook dry beans. This was part of what motivated us to create Extension handouts that explained how to cook beans, and also shared tips to cook dry beans faster. Scroll down to see those handouts!

Table 7 - barriers to cooking dry beans - why don't people cook beans

How to Cook Beans – Extension Bean Handouts

Here are the two handouts I developed with CSU Extension to help people have an easier, more positive experience when they cook dry beans. One handout was on how to cook beans, and one was full of tips about how to cook beans faster. You can also find these resources on Food Smart Colorado, along with other helpful information. A big shout-out to CSU Extension for their feedback on this project, and for their help distributing these bean resources!

Handout: How to Cook Beans

This CSU Extension handout shares tips on how to select, store, sort, soak, and cook beans. I also have a post full of information about cooking dry beans, along with a helpful video.

Cooking with Dry Beans-CSU Extension-page 1
Cooking with Dry Beans-CSU Extension-page 2

Handout: How to Cook Beans Faster

Here is the CSU Extension handout with tips about how to cook beans faster. Check out this post for more details.

Bean Research

You can find the full paper, A Translational Approach to Increase Pulse Intake and Promote Public Health through Developing an Extension Bean Toolkit, on the Nutrients website, at this link.

Can’t get enough about beans? I can definitely relate. I would recommend browsing A Pinch of Science to find out more about exciting bean research!

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