native to: North Africa and South Asia
in season here: July-August
Fava beans, Vicia fabas, broad beans, field beans, bell beans, pigeon beans, windsor beans, horse beans, or tic beans are not actually beans, they’re more closely related to peas. Like peas, the plants are nitrogen fixers and protect against erosion, making them a popular green mulch. They can be eaten raw, but cooking is recommended to reduce the chance of allergic reaction. They appear in Mediterranean dishes.
The thing about fava beans, and the reason they’re so seldom seen, is that they’re customarily peeled as well as shelled; each bean has a tough skin that definitely detracts from the beans themselves unless removed. On the other hand, once you get reasonably good at it, peeling beans is a great alternative to knitting as a way to keep your hands busy while watching TV or chatting with friends.
How to peel fava beans
The case against peeling them, at least when they’re small and fresh
They’re high in protein, magnesium, thiamin, vitamin K, vitamin B-6, potassium, phosphorus, folate, copper, selenium, and zinc. They protect against heart disease, cancer, depression (although it should be noted that the tyramine in them clashes dangerously with the antidepressant medication monoamine oxidase inhibitor), arthritis, osteoporosis, and can reduce PMS symptoms. They also have a lot of iron, but it’s not in the most easily absorbed form; adding some meat or something with vitamin C can help with that. They’re a natural source of L-dopa, which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease, although studies of fava beans as a treatment in themselves have given mixed results and L-dopa itself interferes with vitamin B6 metabolism (another reason for caution if you have trouble with depression). However, fava beans have been linked to weight loss in some studies, which is more cheerful news.