I’ve been singing this mantra for years, it seems, to absolutely no effect as Americans stubbornly persist in doing what no self-respecting Italian cook would ever do. What’s that? you ask. Peeling fava beans—that is, peeling the outer tender skin of each and every individual bean. What a waste of time! What a waste of flavor!
Where does this weird practice come from? I suspect from the French professional kitchen where chefs are constantly challenged to come up with new tricks and trucs to keep their enormous brigades de cuisine in operation. In Italy, where restaurant kitchens are run much more economically, no one has to dream up tasks—there are enough to go around and more.
But why do Americans insist on this? Every food writer except one (me) says you have to peel beans. Then they go through elaborate rigmaroles to show you how to do it. No wonder fava beans are not exactly popular despite their magnificent, slightly earthy flavor, so very different from string beans or limas. Every spring or summer I feel like climbing up in the pulpit and shouting: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT—IN FACT, IT IS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE!!!
You see, by removing the skin of each bean, you also unquestionably remove much of that very earthy flavor that makes these tender early-summer delights so, well, delightful. Without the skin, hmmm, you might as well be eating peas. (I think Elizabeth David said that but I can’t find where.) So leave the skins on, as British and Italian and Spanish cooks all do, and enjoy the earthy sweetness of fresh fava beans. And if the French want to persist with their fiddly chore, let ‘em do so but don’t be drawn into it in your own kitchen.
The English call them broad beans, which is what they used to be called, not surprisingly, in this country too before they somehow drifted out of favor, to return only recently under their Italian name of fave (fava in the singular which is seldom used). So why don’t we prepare them the way Italian cooks do? Don’t ask!
The illustration shows the right size for fava beans and maybe that’s the problem. Baby bean is for eating raw (as we do in Tuscany in the early spring, pairing small tender fava beans with fresh young pecorino cheese); mama bean could also be eaten raw as part of an antipasto, but mama and papa beans are at their best cooked. Anything bigger than papa bean, in my kitchen at least, gets chucked. Great big beans like that are suitable only for drying. Dried fave are an important winter store in the Mediterranean and make a magnificent pureed bean soup, especially if served with bitter chicory greens in the soup or on the side. But we’re concerned with fresh fave at this time of the year.
Baby bean brings up another issue: when they come across a pod the size of baby bean’s, my Middle Eastern friends don’t even shuck out the beans. They just top and tail and cut up the pods, as if they were green beans, and cook them right along with the shucked beans. (When I tell Italians about that they wrinkle their noses, same as you Americans when confronted with unpeeled beans. Chacun à son goût, babe!)
Whenever you make fave or broad beans, you need plenty of garlic, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. For a recipe, see my post on May 17, Springing for Fave: http://nancyharmonjenkins.com/posts/springing-for-fave/
Couldn’t agree more Nancy. We relished broad beans when I was a child in England and never considered peeling them. And the textural difference between skin and interior was very intriguing. And the Catalans, for whom broad beans, pork ribs, and blood sausage is a national dish, don’t peel them either.
Peeled fava beans are an Egyptian idea. They begin their Falafel recipes with dried favas, the beans are soaked and the skins removed to aid digestion and to emphasize a mealy texture. See Claudi Roden’s Middle Eastern Cookbooks.
I am so happy to have found this article. I just harvested my first handful of fava beans (in the Yukon) and the idea of peeling them just seemed silly. I buy canned mature favas and eat them skins and all.
According to my copy of Claudia roden’s the New book ofMiddle Eastern Food : “Egyptians do not remove the skin of the beans” ( Introductory note to *roz bel ful ahdar”)
I am with you!
And I grow favas. Right here in Maine.
Thank you for posting this! I just bought a bag of dried fava beans for the 1st time – – usually use canned. Wasn’t sure how to cook them, and found site after site advising to peel them not once, but twice. Ugh. Seriously? This blog entry came up because I actually googled “Do I really have to remove outer skin on fava beans?” What a great find your article was.
According to my copy of Claudia Roden’s the New Book of Middle Eastern Food : “Egyptians do not remove the skin of the beans” ( In an Introductory note to *roz bel ful ahdar*)
Thanks for sharing this information. I am making fava beans at home for the first time and I’m glad to see I don’t need to peel them twice. Most of mine appear to be Mama or Papa size. I hope to source some baby size beans in the near future to try them raw. One question–do you wash them before you cook them?
Chandra, I did want to issue a clarification: When I talk about not peeling fava beans, I mean fresh beans. The dried ones, if they have the skins on, should have the skins removed. (Sometimes you can find dried peeled fave, but more often they have the skins on.) It’s easy to do: Soak overnight in water to cover, then the next morning the skin or peel should lift right off, sometimes with a little nudge from a paring knife.
Thanks for the clarification. I’ve had these dried fava beans in my cupboard for longer than I’d like to admit, and have not used them because peeling them after they cooked for eons was not an easy task. I think I even soaked them before, but never thought to peel them before I cook them. I’m sure the firmer texture of the uncooked bean will make it a lot easier to peel. Plus, it’s nice to go straight into making the recipe after cooking them for so long.
Thnaks. That’s a very important clarification. If one is making Pugliese fave puree from dried beans, the peeling seems to be essential
Nancy, my email to you got returned, so I’m going to try this method!
I would love to know your best ideas for saving and storing extra fave, as we may have been a bit enthusiastic planting our first batch! Can they be frozen after parboiling? Other options?
Thanks so much!
I just came upon this post while searching to see if fave skins can be eaten. Every January I enjoy anticipating spring by starting fave (Windsor Broad) under grow lights to plant out in February. There is nothing more peaceful than sitting in the first spring sunshine on the patio, shelling the favas that grew during chilly February and March (at least in zone 7). Growing broad beans is easy and rewarding– they produce some of the first flowers of the season, dramatic cream and black blossoms. Not only shoul everyone eat the skin, everyone should also try growing these harbingers of spring!
I’m so enjoying your blog and your philosophy of food!
Jennifer, that’s a lovely picture–you sitting on your patio in the sunlight shelling fava beans, what a peaceful prospect!
A colleague linked me to this site. Thnx for
Thank you! You saved me the chore. We grew fave this year for ground cover, mainly. I didn’t want to waste them, but was dreading the prep. Now, I’ll probably go out and pick the rest of them.
Just received a large amount of Fava Beans through BountifulBaskets.org and the beans are huge in comparison to your pics!! By what I read you say to throw them away?? If not what recipe would you recommend I should use with them being that large? Any advice would be great since I have never had them before!
This reply is a bit late – but in case you or somebody else still wonder….I always harvest my broad beans as large as possible and then I cook them with water and some onion, salt, pepper and puree them into a green sauce. I then add parmsan cheese and very fine milled nuts or sunflower kernels and voila – a wonderful, tasty Pesto-Bean Sauce for Spaghetti.
Sounds like a really great idea, Heike. Next fava/broad bean season, I will follow your lead.
Fava beans are something I really miss since we really don’t get many if any at all here. I still remember when I was a kid going to the public market with my mom and aunts and opened my first fava bean. I was immediately struck with how regal the shell itself is, it is a velvety lined and softly cushioned, almost the perfect place to grow.
My mouth is watering just thinking of them, we used to make them boiling a little water onion and fava with a little salt and olive oil.
Next time you get favas, look at the inside of the shell and yes we used to eat the tender shells as well.
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Mandy, I’m sorry your comment slipped past me while I was traveling and I didn’t see it till now. If it’s not too late, I’d say, no, don’t throw out those beans you bought. Instead cook them up for a soup or a puree, put the beans through a normal hand-cranked vegetable mill (not an electric food processor) and the mill will hold back the tough skins on your beans and leave you with a beautiful puree that you could thin with some light chicken or vegetable stock to make a soup, or simply mix with some nice olive oil, salt and pepper, maybe a spritz of lemon, and pile the puree on toasted slices of country style bread for a fine spring bruschetta.
What about when using the fava bean in falafil? Would you leave the shell or skin on them then, too?
You make falafel with dried fava beans, not fresh ones. When they are dried, the skin becomes very tough and leathery, hence should be removed for falafel. It’s very easy to remove the skins from dried beans–once they’re soaked the skins almost slip right off. Or you can sometimes find skinless dried beans which are fine for falafel. In either case, the beans must be soaked before grinding them up for falafel.
Though this reply is coming very late but my dear Nancy falafel is made with dried chick peas and soaked overnight or for no less than 12hours ,you may add soaked small dried fava beans to the chickpeas, in Palestine we cook fava beans pods and seeds together (they should be no more than 2-3 inches with olive oil onions and garlic and some spices they are delicious you can serve them with whole rice or just as they are.
We call em broad beans in Aus too. I never understand some of the terminology going around.
They used to be called broad beans in the US but then they dropped out of favor and returned with Italian immigrants, hence given an Italian name–fava, or fava beans. What do Italians in Aus call them?
Yours is the second site saying ‘don’t peel’ and I appreciated your article BUT THEN, I read further that you amended your post with advise to peel the dried ones.! I’ve cooked the dried twice in my rice cooker and I think they taste fine without peeling! So…..
I am Russian and I was pretty disappointed when I could not find raw fava beans in the store in USA. I do get them from time to time at the international market though. Eating them raw is very common back home, especially among kids. And I still love doing that. Lots of flavor, protein and iron!
Katerina, thanks for your comment. I’d love to know how fava beans are prepared in Russia. Is it traditional to peel the individual beans before using? And are they more commonly used fresh or dried?
In Lithuania, my parents were growing them by the fence in the garden. We used to work in the garden all day and then cook huge pods of broad beans in water with salt. When cooked, we take pod by pod and snack on the beans. They were young, still green, not dried, so there was no need for peeling the skins.
Here in Japan, it seems to be common to say that the black “end” — for lack of a better term… this is the portion where the bean was actually connected to the pod I think — needs to be removed from the skin. Any experience with that?
I guess I’m going to make everybody angry, but I find that young fresh broad beans (mama & papa size) are way nicer in terms of taste & texture when you, yes, go to the trouble of removing those skins. It is worth it.
Chacun a son gout, right?
My first time cooking fresh favas, and I am so happy I found your article. I love cooking, but prefer fast meals that come out delicious, as opposed to slaving on the kitchen for hours. I enjoyed your writing and followed you on Facebook, which I rarely do. Now please excuse me – I am off to cook those beans using your recipe that looks wonderfully easy and delicious!
Broad beans cooked in their pod, mmm, this soft hairy inside pod does nt look appealing to me. Broad beans need to be eaten when quite young, out of their pods naturally but inside their shell. They are delicious. When older they get bigger, yes, and also more unpallatable. Bigger ones good for stew etc. And what to do with all those DRIED beans? (apart from saving some for next years allotment). How to shell these? How to cook. Any tips anybody? Btw, the scent (perfume) of flowering broadbeans is magnificent too. Worth growing for this reason alone…
thanks for your comment, Christina. In Mediterranean kitchens, dried broad beans are a valuable addition to the winter pantry, and turned into wonderfully filling soups. Without the tough outer skins of the individual beans, which come off easily after overnight soaking, they will collapse through cooking into a thick puree. In Puglia, that puree is served with steamed bitter chicory greens and often pickled red onions, a great combination.
Nancy, I appreciate your words re peeling vs not peeling! I grew a huge crop of favas this spring, and I experimented with raw, cooked, peeling and not peeling – and I certainly agree about not peeling (I also grew a smaller variety, which helped). I had so many that I dried some and so am especially grateful for your advice about soaking/peeling those. If there are any left over, I may use them to grow next year’s crop!
Thanks for this, Peggy. slowly, slowly we will spread the word about eating fava beans when they are young, tender, and small–peel and all! They are so delicious that way.
We always peeled our fava beans at the mama and papa phase and we are Italian. However, I had a Portuguese friend who showed me that you didn’t need to do that if you got the pods when they were at the baby fava stage. She cut off the ends and cooked them with linguica, tomato, onion base, add chicken stock and braise. Then she cracked some eggs in the broth to poach. I swapped the linguica with Pancetta and my Sicilian father likes them better cooked that way! You can teach old dogs new tricks 🙂 We also toss them in olive oil and salt and BBQ them. Then you can eat the pod and all!
What a great idea, Amy Berliner. I’m going to try this next time fave beans show up in my market.
We grind dried favas in our recipe for GF flour- great waffles. Usually we use Bob’s Red Mill brand, and those beans are relieved of their “unsavory” peels (quote on the packaging, maybe Bob’s French?). However we could get only unpeeled beans with our last order, and could not find guidance on the internets. So we experimented by first making a test batch of popovers- which, for obvious reasons, do not quite pop over- but they tasted just fine. Waffles this morning were great! Unpeeled favas are maybe even a little better, the skins perhaps added more depth to the savoriness, but maybe it was just that the flour was fresher!
Hi, When working with dried fava beans (with their skins), I’ve found that even after soaking and cooking the beans, the skins remain rubbery. Would you recommend peeling the beans when working with dried fava? Thans in advance
Better late than never: yes, I would recommend soaking the dried beans, then peeling them, and then cooking. Tedious but worth the effort.
I just bought fresh fava beans for the first time. My mom is Italian and my mom and grandma used dried favas often, but I wanted to try the fresh ones. I am confused by how to prepare them as most recipes say to blanch them to remove the skins. …So if I’m not removing the skins, do they still need to be blanched? I have an idea to add them to a pasta nero di seppia e gamberi dish.
Sorry, Laney, I’ve taken a long time to reply and you’ve probably cooked the beans by now. But no, even though most recipes say you must peel the individual beans, if they are young and tender it is decidedly not necessary. And you don’t have to blanch them ahead of time. I’m following what cooks in Italy, Spain, and Greece do. You only peel the individual beans when they are big and fat and tough. Unfortunately, since that’s mostly what we get in this country, our young chefs have turned to peeling them. That’s fine in a restaurant kitchen with plenty of staff but most home cooks don’t have that luxury. And don’t need it if the beans are young.
Where is everybody finding fresh fave in the United States? We cannot find them anywhere and we really would like to prepare fave like we used to when we lived in Europe. I especially like the large green ones, as shown in your photograph, but I cannot find them anywhere in the Philadelphia area.
In the northeastern U.S., fave are a late spring/early summer vegetable. By September they will have gone by or be way too old to use. Look for them next May in farmer’s markets throughout your region, probably even at Reading Terminal and certainly in South Philly.
Just came across this blog after rummaging around the web in regards to Fava Beans. Apparently, they contain a toxic lectin known as Leucoagglutinin. I came here wondering if peeling the beans was a suggestion to remove some of these toxins. With all the posters commenting on how they prepare and eat them, peeled/unpeeled, young/ripe, my curious mind lead me to think perhaps the lectins break down when cooking and aren’t so bad. Does anyone have any knowledge in regards to the methods of cooking and how they might relate to lowering toxicity? Eating them raw, and young, seems like they would contain the most lectins.
Peeling fava beans does nothing, as far as I know, to their toxicity, one way or another. However, it is not an issue for most diners. Only a very few people, mostly of Mediterranean descent (where, of course, fave beans are a very important part of the traditional diet), exhibit a sensitivity to the glutinin. Curiously, like sickle cell anemia, it seems to be related to an innate resistance to malaria.
I don’t understand all the hype about removing the peel from dried (yes dried) fava beans. I just cooked them for the first time. I soaked them overnight in water (12 hours), rinsed them under running water, cooked them in a light boil (pot was half covered with pot lid) just plain water I didn’t even add salt. One hour and 15 minutes later, I have a delicious lunch. To me the fava peel adds flavor and nutrients, and after eating them I am still alive to write this. I cooked “Ziyad brand Small Fava Beans”. I hope this helps anyone who is anxious about cooking fava beans for the first time.
Ray, that’s interesting…I also grew a smaller-bean variety (Sweet Lorane), and dried some to experiment with. Maybe I will try small batches both peeled and unpeeled and see what results. Thanks for the comment!
I’m so glad to have read your comment. I just soaked the beans for a very long time but the skins would not come off most of them, so I tossed everything into the pot with garlic, onion, cumin, and paprika. Hoping for the best…
And? How did it turn out?
Those “Fave” seem to be a wonderful, versatile vegetable. Makes me wonder why I didn´t see them, so far, in our German supermarkets…
Anyway, I just discovered them in an Arabic Food store a few days ago and will buy a pack next time I return there.
I already have a recipe-idea: Polenta with 50% ground fave and 50% corn, some winter vegetables like pumpkin, turnip, cale…, rounded up with lemon juice and truffle-flavoured olive oil. Ahhh… *sigh*. Plus, with the vitamins from the winter vegetables and the protein and minerals from the fave this should be a nicely healthy, balanced meal.
Sounds like a great idea, Hannah Czerny–with the exception of the truffle oil. If you go on line you’ll find lots of information about the problems with truffle-flavored oil, including the fact that it isn’t really truffles that flavor it. Why not use just a really good, flavorful olive oil (extra-virgin of course) and leave the truffles out?
great to hear from you! Wow, thanks for your advice – I wasn´t aware up to now, that there is a problem with truffle oil out there.
The online-sources I now read stated, that the common so-called “truffle oil” is made with aroma derived from mineral oil and it has a really disgusting metallic aftertaste.
Hm… I guess I was so far lucky and my buys so far were of ones of the better qualities, because I never recognized a metallic – or otherwise bad – taste.
In fact, my recent buy is this oil (the site is in German, but Google Translator surely should solve that problem):
In the ingredients list it states that it is made with “Natural white truffle aroma”. Now, I don´t know how other countries handle that, but in Germany there are specific laws regarding the wording of aromas in the ingredients list: Just “Aroma” means, the aroma can be derived from any arbitrary source. “Natural aroma” in opposition, must always come from a natural (plant or animal) source.
Finally, if the producer writes “Natural truffle/cherry/etc. aroma”, the aroma definitely has to have been extracted from the corresponding original.
So, since this white truffle oil I bought is actually made with “White truffle aroma”, it´s supposed to have indeed been flavoured by using white truffle source material.
So… well… I therefore should think/hope that this oil should be a decent one…
Haha, too bad I cannot send a teaspoon of it over the internet for you to taste. 🙂
I would really be interested, how you would rate it.
Now, why do I definitely want some truffle taste in my polenta? Simply, because I found those oils I have tasted so far as “oils with the taste of truffle” (leaving the question to what extend they actually reflected the taste of a real truffle completely out for a moment) really, really delicious! If that, what I have tasted there, is the taste of a real truffle, then I´m totally in love with truffles.
Alas, till this day, I never ate a real truffle… but I have a already made plans to visit the city of Frankfurt sometime during the next couple of month. There, I saw in the internet, are some Italian merchants who sell fresh truffles.
I´m already very excited to experience how (-much) oil and actual mushroom taste different…
As I am sitting here harvesting a large harvest of fava beans, making up various recipes, marinating them and more, I beg to differ. There is absolutely no flavor in the skins…I am eating both as I am writing this; the skin has no flavor, the bean does. Nothing will convince me otherwise, my nose and tastebuds are certain.
Well, I beg to differ with you, Peter Cunningham, but thank you for your comment and I’m glad you took the trouble to experiment. I don’t know where in the world you are but I would hazard a guess that your beans are too old. Next year, try them very early in the season and see if you don’t agree with me then.
My husband is harvesting his crop of Fava beans, here in New Mexico and they’re beautiful and tasty, in their mama stage. As a child (many years ago) my father grew them and left them to harden. They would then be boiled and eaten individually, by hand, removing the outer lawyer as you ate them. They would also be roasted and eaten as a snack. Had to be kept in the mouth a long topi pie to soften, but the result was quite tasty.
Such a relief when I saw this article. I hate peeling small things and I really like fava beans, but only consumed them already prepared for me when I was a kid. Now at 42 I’m about to get some fava beans only to find a ton of links to peeling them before consumption. Super daunting, anything smaller than a medium sized shrimp is my limit and I better not be sharing. Gonna get me some peel intact fava beans. Thank you for the forward thinking bean advice!
Fava beans are a staple in Israel and we NEVER peel it. It is cooked with it and then either is eaten with the peel or without. When cooked it is very easy to take off the peel with the teeth.
I have IBS and removing the skins are the ONLY way I tolerate legumes.
Whether or not you must peel them just depends on variety and age–there is a broad spectrum of Fava beans. Some are acrid and indigestible unpeeled, others aren’t. Gotta love the diversity!
You are the only person i could find that says you do not need to peel the bean. I have never grown them are eaten them and would not if i had to peel them/ One thing you left out in this article that i need to know is how long do you cook them ???
Thanks for giving me a reply !!!
Well, Alan, if you’ve never cooked them I wish you good luck in finding them at the peak of freshness. Then once you’ve shucked them (but NOT peeled them) just drop them in boiling water and cook until done. I know you’ll say “what is done?” but it honestly depends on your own taste. Think about green peas–do you like them very soft, or almost raw, or somewhere in the middle? Cook your fava beans to the same texture–it could take as little as 7 minutes in rapidly boiling lightly salted water. Or it could take as much as 15 minutes. Once you’ve tried, you’ll know. Buon appetite!
What a long running conversation!
Having been forced fed Broad Beans ( in NZ ) with their bitter, tough skins on as a kid it was a revelation to experience the sweet pea-innards with the skins removed.
These beans are becoming the legume de jour as their amazing nutritional qualities are becoming better know. And their versatility. From purees, salads, flour, felafel etc. And high in protein and gluten free.
You can also use the young leaves in a salad for a slightly minty flavour.
Thanks, Aaron. I still prefer mine skins on–when they’re young and tender.
I just tried fava beans for the first time. I left the skin on. I soaked them overnight ,possibly 18 hours, at least 12. In electric pressure cooker, I did high pressure for 25 minutes, natural release and I thought they were fine. Thank you for your long running post!
Hi. Thank you for the article. I grew up calling them broadband here in England, and eating them in their skins. I just recently tried skinning them for a salad and they’re delicious like that. In fact, they were a revelation. So maybe try them both ways as the mood takes you? Maybe skin on if cooked and skinned for tenderness in a salad. Either way, enjoy!
Having only recently discovered that they could even be popped [Greek cuisine being similar to Italian in that I have Never seen them peeled, or served that way in any restaurants]; it really improved the usually bitter taste of the large ones – and had joked about Greek restaurants having to hire extra kitchen staff if this caught on !
But now with the ‘baby broad beans’ I do as you say, and yes this does taste rather nice (also saving a lot of time). To tell the difference: the adult ones will have wrinkly skins after boiling for as little as two minutes – while the ones marketed as ‘baby broad beans’ can be boiled for 6 mins, and are still free of any wrinkles.
I just came across this Blog while searching for the nutrition factor of Fava Beans Skin vs. no skin.
Actually, I go even further on this, I cook the entire Pod. I grew up in Egypt and my mother loved cooking the Fava Beans Pods during Lent as a high nutritional meal.
First, you have to remove the strings off the top of the Pod and on both sides as they would be very hard and don’t cook right. Then I would cut the Pod, whole with the beans inside them, into small 1-inch parts. Avoid using any pods that seem to be rough or stringy, they don’t cook well and will be hard to even chew.
I sautee onion then add as much as I could use of garlic (I just loooove Garlic), and when the smell of garlic comes out I add the Fava Pods and sautee the entire content for about 10-15 minutes.
On the side, I would chop a small bunch of Cilantro and mix them with 5-6 garlic cloves, and smash them together to get the garlic juice all mixed up, then add them to the sauteed mix that’s still on the stove.
Add water to cover the mix, add your salt as desired, and once the water starts boiling, reduce heat to low and let boil for 20-30 minutes.
I prefer to eat this over a bed of white rice. Guarantee, you will get hooked, even while you’re cooking it.
I’ve had something like your version in Egypt and in Lebanon too, John, and I agree–delicious. In Beirut they often mixed the beans with the whole pods, depending on the size. Larger pods get shucked, smaller ones sliced like green beans and tossed into the pot all together.
Thanks for the clarification. I was wrongly peeling the fava beans. Thanks
My husband cooks and eats DRIED fave beans and does not peel them (I eat some as well, but not as many as he does). He cooks them Kevin Belton-style: sauteing aromatics and spices, then putting the dried beans in the pan and adding liquid as needed. They’re really quite good! One reason he does this is that fave beans are said to increase dopamine; his hands shake less if he eats lots of these beans.