Tepary Beans – a Desert Gift

Muffin Burgess discusses beans with customers at the St. Phillips Farmers' Market

When I give demonstations involving tepary beans, people always want to know where to buy them.  One place is at the stand Muffin Burgess runs at the St. Phillips Farmer’s Market on Sundays in Tucson. You can also get them from Native Seeds SEARCH, both the store and on-line.  They are grown by San Xavier Cooperative Farm and the Tohono O’odham Community Action Farm, Ramona Farms in Sacaton, south of Phoenix, and Rancho Gordo in Stockton, California.

Teparies originally grew wild, but many generations ago the Tohono O’odham people domesticated them and grew them with the monsoon rains. They had many natural color variations, but when irrigation made possible the growing of pinto beans, farmers switch to the new crop and many of these varieties were lost. Working with native farmers, Native Seeds SEARCH has recovered some of the lost colors. 

Why are teparies important in the bean world? They rank slightly higher in protein and niacin and quite a lot higher in calcium. They also have a low glycemic index, which protects people eating them from a dangerously rapid rise in blood glucose levels. People who suffer from diabetes can reduce their need for insulin shots by eating plenty of teparies and other desert foods such as prickly pear pads and chia that have the gums and fibers useful in controlling blood sugar.

Tepary beans that have been stored for a while take a long time to cook — sometimes up to 14 hours in a crockpot.  Chef Doug Levy of the Tucson restaurant Feast! shortens the cooking time by soaking dried teparies for two days in cold water in the refrigerator.  And remember, never salt your beans until the end of the cooking time.

You can buy teparies by contacting Muffin at www.flordemayoarts.com.  You can find many delicious recipes for teparies in my latest book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. 


One response

  1. The tepary bean dishes are worth experimenting with, if you are a bit adventurous and want to go beyond basic mesquite and prickly pear recipes. And if you are not in a hurry — they used to think 8 to 10 hours, now it seems they are saying 14.

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