My mother has been trying to find ‘Papago’ beans ever since she bought some in Ajo, Ariz., several years ago. They are a small, white, dried bean that cooks quickly. I cannot find them listed in any seed catalogs. I sure would appreciate your help in finding these elusive little critters.
The bean you are seeking is probably the white tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius), which has been grown by Native American tribes of southern Arizona and northern Mexico for thousands of years. The tribal name Papago (“bean people”) was used for many years, but in the 1980s, the tribe’s actual name, Tohono O’odham (“desert people”), became popular instead. The 24,000 people of the Tohono O’odham Nation grow several types of dry-climate beans, but if the bean you seek is small and flattened, it is probably a tepary bean.
Tepary beans thrive in hot, dry conditions, and they have a remarkably high protein content that ranges between 23 percent and 30 percent. Most of the cultivated varieties grow into lanky bushes and produce dry beans in 80 to 100 days. Seeds of both white and brown Tohono O’odham tepary beans are available from Native Seeds Search.
— Barbara Pleasant, contributing editor