Barco de Ávila beans. Amador Toril/©ICEX
We refer here to the ripe, dried beans taken from the pod of the leguminous plant of the same name. Although there are several varieties that are native to the Mediterranean basin, their introduction into Spain and subsequent adoption throughout Europe took place after the discovery of the American continent during expeditions in the early 16th century. The name they receive in Latin America - frijoles - seems to stem from the term fréjol used in León in Spain, suggesting that the name was taken to America from Spain. The usual terms used in Spain are judía or alubia (both of Arabic origin), although there are also many regional terms - fréjoles, fabes, mongetes, bajocas and caparrones. The pods may be consumed while green, in which case they are known as green beans or broad beans. The 23 commercial types of bean included in the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture classification can be divided into four species.
The common bean is the most frequent and in turn gives rise to a broad range of varieties - red, black and white, all with the characteristic kidney shape. The mostly widely produced and consumed in Spain is the Blanca Riñón. The Blanca Redonda is one of the varieties covered by the PGI Judías del Barco de Ávila. The Larga Selecta is a variety developed in Spain that is perfectly suited to the climate and soil of the province of León, almost the only place where it is grown. This province also produces most of the Plancheta bean, one of the varieties covered by the PGI Alubias de la Bañeza-León, currently in the process of receiving European Union recognition. The Larga Vega grows mostly in Granada, the province of Andalusia that grows most pulses. The Faba de Asturias is a smooth green color, with a long, flat, oblong shape. It is covered by the PGI Faba Asturiana and is the main ingredient of Asturias' best-known dish, fabada. The Ganxet variety, an almost shiny white, flat bean with a marked kidney shape, is a traditional crop in the Vallés-Maresme districts of Catalonia, where beans are known as mongetas and figure widely in Catalonian recipes. Finally, the Faba Galaica and the Faba do Marisco are the two main varieties for the future PGI Faba de Lourenzá, a district in the province of Lugo, in Galicia.
The second most common species is the Judía Pinta, also kidney-shaped but red or purple, a member of the dark-colored bean family. The Alubia Negra, which is usually small and shiny, is the basic ingredient alongside rice of the typical Spanish dish Moros y Cristianos. The Tolosa black beans are also very well-known. They are named after a town in the Basque Country, the location of a traditional market in which the beans take pride of place.
The third species, known as the Judía de Lima, Judión, Garrafón or Judía de Madagascar, is mostly grown in the province of Valencia, where it is an essential ingredient in the famous paella. It is a large bean with a buttery flavor and creamy texture. The fourth species is the Escarlata, that of the well-known Judión de La Granja. These are usually white and large.
Finally, the Alubia Pocha is one of the most highly-esteemed varieties because of its thin skin and smoothness. It is mostly consumed in the Basque Country, Navarre and La Rioja while still fresh. This means that the season is very short, just a few weeks in late summer. It is known for its pale green color.
An important characteristic of dry beans is that they absorb the flavor and aromas of the ingredients that accompany them, so they are very suitable for stews and soups. Before cooking, they must be soaked in plenty of cold water for about 12 hours.