What is the difference between green beans, string beans, pole beans and runner beans? I sort of know which is which, but when I tried to define the terms, things got very confusing. We use a lot of different terms for beans.
After a little research things got even more confusing since there are also French beans, snap beans and snaps. And what about those yellow wax beans. Are soybeans real beans?
This post is full of beans!
Bush Beans vs Pole Beans
All beans can be grouped into one of two categories depending on how they grow.
Bush beans are plants that are usually under 2 ft tall. All of the flowers develop at more or less the same time and so do the beans, which makes them suitable for mechanical harvest. They are easier to grow since they don’t need staking, and they tend to produce beans earlier than pole beans.
Pole beans, which are also called vine beans and climbing beans, grow much taller and are usually grown on some kind of trellis. They start flowering later in the season and tend to produce fruit (scientifically, beans are fruits) until frost.
Some people incorrectly use the term pole bean to only refer to vining green beans and not other climbing beans, but that just confuses things.
Snap Bean vs Dry Bean
Beans can be eaten in the young, green pod stage, called snap beans, or in the mature dry stage called dry beans.
These terms can be used to describe any variety or species of bean.
Twining in Beans
When vines grow up a pole they twine either in a clockwise direction or an anti-clockwise direction. It is good to know their twining direction so you can help them climb. To find out what beans do, see, Twining Direction in Beans – are Scarlet Runner Beans Different?
Species of Beans
We grow various species of beans. It is not important to remember the botanical names, but it does help to sort out the various common names that are used.
This is the bean that is most commonly sold in North American grocery stores, and is known by several common names including, common bean, French bean, green bean, string bean, snap bean and snaps, not to be confused with sugar snap peas. In French restaurants they are called haricots vert. It is available in both bush and pole varieties.
The term string bean refers to older cultivars that develop a tough string along the joined edge as they get older. Newer cultivars have been bred to reduce this string, and are called stringless beans.
Wax bean is a yellow form of the green bean.
Purple bean is a purple form of the green bean. The bean turns green when it is cooked.
Kidney bean, or red kidney bean is usually eaten dry, has a dark red color and is a type of green bean.
Navy bean, also called haricot, pearl haricot, boston, white pea and pea bean, are white in color and are eaten dry. They are available in bush and vine types and are a form of the green been. In fact the dry seed of most green beans is white.
Pinto bean is another type of green bean that produces dry beans that are tan in color, with darker spots. It is used a lot in Mexican dishes. It is also eaten as tender green pods.
This species of bean is know as the runner bean, scarlet runner bean, multiflora bean or butter bean. The term butter bean is also used for the lima bean.
This bean develops flat green pods and has a very different flavor than the green bean. Its flowers can be red, hence the name scarlet runner bean, or white and is grown as an ornamental plant. They are usually pole beans.
Is grown mostly for the dry beans and is called lima bean, butter bean, sieva bean or Madagascar bean. Both bush and pole cultivars exist.
This is a bush bean which can be taller than two feet, and is grown both for food and as a cover crop. Common names include broad bean, fava bean, faba bean, bell bean, field bean, tic bean, or horse bean.
Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis
This bean is also called yardlong bean, long-podded cowpea, Chinese long bean, bodi/bora, snake bean, asparagus bean, snake bean or pea bean. It forms long beans that reach about 1/2 yard in length (50 cm). The green immature seed inside the pod is quite small. It is a vigorous annual vine, grown mostly in subtropical and tropical regions and is more popular in Asian cultures.
They are usually eaten in the green stage. Unlike the regular green bean which is usually cooked in water, this one is much better stir fried in oil.
This is the soybean; also spelled soya bean. It is grown as an edible bean and for the production of soybean meal, a cheap source of protein.