How Do I Choose the Best Fava Beans?

Megan Shoop

Fava beans, also called broad beans and Windsor beans, ripen in late spring. These plump, waxy beans closely resemble lima beans, but are usually larger in size. They also have a rich, meaty flavor that makes them a delicious addition to soups, stews, salads, and vegetable dips. When choosing fava beans, there are several factors to consider. Young fava beans feature different flavors than more mature varieties. Consumers should also note the plumpness, color, and feel of the pods before purchasing or harvesting.

Fava beans in the pod.
Fava beans in the pod.

In the U.S., young fava beans usually begin to make an appearance in stores and farmer’s markets at the beginning of May. These small beans, usually measuring about 3 inches (about 6 cm) long have a sweet, light flavor similar to that of sweet peas. Consumers should typically look for young pods that feel firm, but not hard, and show light indentations between the beans inside the pods. The pods themselves should also be free of brown, mushy spots and bore holes. These things could indicate that the beans inside the pod are rotten.

Cooked fava beans and raw fava beans.
Cooked fava beans and raw fava beans.

Consumers that enjoy more savory beans may want to wait until mid- or late-spring for more mature beans. These pods usually measure between 6 to 12 inches (12 to 24 cm). Larger beans are usually harder and may have a bitter taste. Cooks looking for mature fava beans usually plan to mix them with very savory flavors, like garlic, onions, bacon, and hearty greens. Late-harvest fava beans should definitely bulge inside the pods, but should be free of blemishes, just like the younger beans.

Sweet, young beans may be eaten cooked or raw, and often work well in light salads. They can be combined with delicate butter lettuce, peas, early tomatoes, and salty cheeses to make a healthy lunch or a side dish for dinner. Younger beans also combine well with okra in seasonal soups and stews. To prepare these early harvest fava beans, a cook must simply pop off the stem end of each pod and pull to help the pod pop open. The beans may then be eaten as-is.

Older, late-harvest beans are almost always cooked because they’re tougher and can be bitter when eaten raw. Many cooks sauté older fava beans with butter and onions until they’re tender. Some also simmer them together with root vegetables to create pureed soups or flavorful mashed veggies to eat on a chilly spring evening. These beans also work well with spicy flavors and are sometimes cooked, cooled, and added to salsas.

Mature beans should be popped out of the pod and slipped right into boiling water. They have a waxy coating on them that is very difficult to chew and digest. When the beans have boiled for about 5 minutes, they may be drained and slipped into an ice bath. After that, the cook must peel each bean. Some cooks always choose young beans just to avoid this step.

Root vegetables, which can be served with fava beans.
Root vegetables, which can be served with fava beans.

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Discussion Comments


Late-harvest fava beans are not very good. They are so difficult to cook! They have to be boiled for a long time and even then, the skin of the fava beans become kind of rubbery.


@ysmina-- I have not seen canned young fava beans but they may be available frozen. If you can get them fresh, that really would be best. Fresh fava beans are one of the first spring vegetables to show up at the market. So make sure to visit the farmer's market at this time. You can freeze fresh fava beans and use them a month or two later. Unfortunately, fresh fava beans are not in season for long since they mature fairly quickly.

I personally like both young and mature fava beans. When I buy young fava beans, I make sure that they are bright green with tight skin and without blemishes. Adult fava beans should also be bright green and plump.


I've never eaten young fava beans, I wonder how they taste?

Mature fava beans have a nice texture when cooked and they have a lot of fiber and protein. But they are kind of bland and do not taste very good if they're not combined with lots of other delicious ingredients. So I have a hard time enjoying mature fava beans. I would like to try young fava beans sometime but I have never seen them at the farmer's market.

Are young fava beans available frozen or canned?

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