Introducing the Hunan Winged Bean

Pods, seeds, blossoms and tubers — you can eat every part of the hunan winged bean.

| June/July 2007

The winged bean is one of the newest Asian vegetables coming to market these days, and its appearance is long overdue. Known for centuries in tropical Asia, this attractive climbing perennial is more or less your total meal: all parts of the plant are edible — the pods, the beans inside, the shoots, the flowers and even the tuber.

The seeds and tubers have been getting a lot of attention in the scientific press because of their high protein content, which can be up to 20 percent — way ahead of potatoes and yams. But it’s the pods we generally see in Asian markets these days: long, flat and covered with frilly “wings” along four edges. Best of all, winged beans are fairly easy to grow and make a flavorful addition to stir-fries and grills. The taste of the pods is something between a snow pea and asparagus; they are terrific when grilled and served with dipping sauce.

You won’t find much about them on the Internet because the beans are new to Americans, and commercial growers have yet to settle on a name that does not create confusion at the produce stand. Right now the beans are sold as four-angled beans, Goa beans, princess beans, winged peas and winged beans.

The mature pods can grow up to 9 inches long, though they taste better when picked small, no more than 6 inches long. Most commercially grown beans are harvested at 4 to 6 inches. When the pods become too ripe, they get stringy and tough, but the flip side is that the seeds inside can be eaten just like your regular garden variety shelling peas. The ripe (dry) seeds can be cooked like beans by first soaking them in water for an hour, then boiling for about 25 to 30 minutes. The tender shoots and white or pale blue flowers can be eaten raw, and add a lot of pizzazz to summer salads.

Winged beans (Psophocarpus tetra-gonolobus) are said to have originated in Mauritius or Madagascar. They are thought to have been disseminated by Arabs because some of the names used for the beans in places such as Malaysia (where the beans are called “kacang botol”) are derived from Arabic. This is one of the most important vegetables in south Indian and Thai cooking because the plants are perennial in the tropics and they supply a steady source of food year-round. Their nitrogen-fixing ability helped secure their role as a cover crop on banana plantations, both to enrich the soil and to provide an alternative source of income when bananas are not producing. They are adaptable to a wide variety of conditions, which caused them to spread quickly. Today there are hundreds of varieties, many of which were developed in China.


Of the varieties developed by Chinese gardeners, the ‘Hunan’ winged bean is credited for making cultivation possible in North America. Most winged beans grown in the United States are raised in south Florida and planted for winter cropping, because the plants do not flower unless the day length is short. ‘Hunan,’ however, can be grown anywhere with at least two months of warm nighttime temperatures (70 degrees or more). It will begin to flower in the latter part of the summer and then crop heavily in September until frost.

1/9/2015 11:20:10 PM

hi im nelboy bendoy, me also was selling winged bean vegetables, and cooked it also, just join me....yeyeyeyeyeyeh

1/9/2015 11:17:33 PM

you know winged bean very nice vegetable,all parts are edible, leaves can be eaten like spinach flowers can be use in salads tubers can be eaten raw or cooked seeds can be used in similar ways as the soybean

1/9/2015 11:13:02 PM

hank you for being helpful

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