Faba bean is known only as a cultivated species. Its presumed origin is somewhere in the Middle East where it has been cultivated for thousands of years. Faba bean is a cool season grain legume, now widely distributed in temperate environments around the globe. Its geographic spread began early, a record of its introduction to China dates before 2800 B.C. Faba bean is a favorite bean species in Europe; the Middle East; the Nile River valley regions of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia; and India and Burma. It is also grown in parts of Australia and the Americas, especially at high elevations in Mexico, Brazil, and the Andes. It is grown chiefly as a feed grain in the United States, Canada, and northern Europe.
Faba bean is perhaps the oldest dual use food and feed legume species. It was cultivated by ancient Romans both as a food plant and as feedstuff for horses and oxen. Historically, the large-seeded, mild-flavored, sweet forms of Faba bean have been selected for food use. Faba-Bean is eaten as a potherb, vegetable, or pulse. The small-seeded, bitter, and less sweet varieties have been developed for animal feed. Examples are field-bean, horsebean, and tick-bean. Feed bean varieties are used for grain, forage, or silage. Faba bean’s efficient nitrogen-fixing capability makes it a good choice as a ground cover or green manure species.
In cool temperate regions, Faba bean is planted in early spring. In warm temperate and subtropical regions, it often is planted in the autumn as a winter season crop. Cold-hardy varieties tolerate low temperatures well (to –10o C; 14o F). Faba bean is the least drought tolerant of legume crops. Moderate rainfall (650-1,000 mm; 25-40 in) well-spaced throughout the growing season is desirable. Faba bean’s maturity time varies widely, from 90 days to over 120 days, depending upon variety and growing conditions. Faba bean does not set seed at high temperatures. If possible, shade the plants exposed to hot sun during flowering. Soil mulch also will help reduce high surface temperatures. Usually, Faba bean seeds are planted 5-10 cm (2-4 in) deep, spaced 15 cm (6 in) apart, in rows 75-80 cm (30-32 in) apart. Sometimes seeds are broadcast, especially plantings used for forage.
Weed control is important, especially during the early growth stages. Inoculate seeds with a Rhizobium species designated for vetches If neither Faba bean nor other legume crops have been grown previously on the site. Normally, seed inoculation is not required if Faba beans have been grown previously on the site.
Harvesting and Seed Production
Faba bean pods are harvested while the pods are still green. Lower pods mature first. Make periodic (5- to 7-day) harvests from the bottom to the top of the plant. Harvests for dry seeds need to be done after lower pods are mature but just before upper pods are fully mature. Later harvests produce large amounts of shattered seeds. To reduce seed shatter, whole plant harvests should be done at night or during cloudy days. Thresh and winnow harvested plants to obtain the seeds. To use Faba-Beans for silage, cut and swath bean plants after the lower pods blacken. Allow swathed beans to wilt for 1-3 days before chopping and storing them.
Pests and Diseases
A series of fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases attack Faba beans. Fungal diseases include stem rots, black root rot, foot rots, downy mildew, rust, and chocolate spot, among others. Broomrape, Orobanche crenata, is a parasitic seed plant on Mediterranean Faba-Beans. Various aphids and weevils, a pea thrip, cowpea bean beetle, and Egyptian leaf worm infest Faba bean plants. Disease and pest control is best done using locally approved methods. A suggested control of black aphids is to pinch off infested flower tips and burn them to retard the spread of this pest species.
Cooking and Nutrition
Both the tender green pods and the shelled beans may be eaten as cooked vegetables. Faba bean leaves also have been listed as a cooked vegetable source. Faba beans equal lima beans in protein content and exceed the iron content of peas and snap beans. Faba beans in the pod may be simmered, steamed, or stir-fried. Shelled older beans make a good cooked side vegetable or an addition to meat dishes. The seed coats or “skins” often are removed before eating as the coats are tough to chew. Mature seeds can be fermented or baked. They are used in bean cakes in the Mediterranean region and in porridge in Ethiopia.
A favorite Middle Eastern dish, falafel, is prepared from deep fried cotyledon (seed leaf) paste mixed with spices and vegetables. Nabet soup is made from boiled germinated beans. Faba beans sometimes are roasted like peanuts or popped like popcorn. Faba beans are best eaten cooked. These beans contain substances which produce an allergenic reaction called favism in some persons, mostly in males of Mediterranean region descent. The reaction normally is temporary and seldom occurs from eating well-cooked Faba beans.
Jarso, M. & Keneni, G., 2006. Vicia faba L. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 13 April 2019.
Ahmed Mohamed Galal Osman, ... Ikhlas A. Khan, in Foodborne Infections and Intoxications (Fourth Edition), 2013 https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/favism