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What are French Beans?

By G. Wiesen
Updated: Feb 29, 2024

French beans, often used interchangeably with the terms green beans or runner beans, are a general name given to the picked fruit of just about any type of beans. These commonly include the hyacinth bean, yardlong bean, and the aptly named common bean. The beans are usually picked while not yet ripe, and can be eaten directly from the plant or may be prepared and cooked in a number of ways. French beans are often eaten still inside their pods, and come in two general varieties: pole beans and bush beans.

Pole beans tend to require poles or other forms of support, such as a garden trellis, to grow along and develop. Bush beans, however, do not require support and grow in small bushes similar to other types of vegetation. Both types of beans have typically been cultivated to produce varieties with pods that are larger and preferably have a stronger and more distinct flavor.

Despite the tendency for some French beans to be green in color, the term “green beans” actually comes from the eating of beans that have not yet ripened and dried out, with “green” referring to unripened fruit. Many varieties of French beans are not green in color, and can be purple, yellow, or red. There are a number of different ways to prepare and enjoy French beans, with steaming, stir frying, and baking being among the most common. While they typically have a strong enough flavor on their own, especially sweet varieties, many people prefer a small amount of butter, salt, and pepper on their beans.

French beans are commonly cooked quite simply, by steaming them in a steamer basket in a pot with a shallow pool of water, or in a microwave with a small amount of water added to the dish the beans are in. This type of cooking maintains the flavor of the bean, and though it softens them slightly, they can still retain much of their texture if not overcooked. Frying, especially stir frying, is also quite a common way to prepare French beans, as lightly cooking them in the hot oil can add a certain amount of crispness to the beans.

One especially popular dish that uses French beans is a baked casserole, often made and served in the United States for holiday meals such as Thanksgiving dinner. The beans are usually combined with cream of mushroom soup, milk, some salt and pepper, and French fried onions, then baked for around a half hour. This produces a final casserole that is creamy and hot with a crispy onion topping, while the beans retain their own flavor and soft texture.

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Discussion Comments
By StarJo — On Jun 08, 2012

I had some yellow French beans at a restaurant while I was on vacation. I had never tasted any before, and though they tasted a little like green beans, they had their own flavor.

They seemed to taste a bit more green. By that, I mean they had more of a garden vegetable flavor. They almost tasted a little bit like grass, but in a good way.

I had them with some new potatoes, and they paired well together. Both were cooked in a mixture of olive oil and butter, so they were moist and lightly browned.

By seag47 — On Jun 08, 2012

I think that steaming French beans is the best way to preserve their flavor. Boiling just seems to zap it right out of them, and they can get too mushy if you leave them in the hot pot for very long.

I love to put them in my steamer and run it for about fifteen minutes. This leaves them firm yet easy to eat.

Sometimes, I throw my steamed beans on top of a bed of romaine lettuce and make a bean salad. I add some shredded carrots and a few cherry tomatoes, and I’ve got a nutritious lunch.

By shell4life — On Jun 07, 2012

@wavy58 - French bean casserole is delicious. It used to be my favorite dish, until someone showed me the secret to their fresh veggie stir fry.

I was at a party where someone had made a pot of French beans, zucchini, and squash. They didn’t appear to have anything mixed in with them, yet in their simplicity, they tasted amazing.

I asked the cook what she did, and she said she simply sauteed them in olive oil and added a bit of minced garlic, salt, and pepper. I ate so much of this at the party that I felt stuffed. I copied her recipe, and now I make it at least once a week.

By wavy58 — On Jun 07, 2012

I make that green bean casserole that the article mentions, but I use cream of chicken soup instead of cream of mushroom soup. My husband is allergic to mushrooms, and I actually prefer the taste of chicken, anyway.

I like to use fresh French beans. They just seem to be less mushy than the canned kind.

In addition to the milk and French fried onions, I add just a bit of soy sauce. This makes all the difference and just ties all the flavors together somehow.

Green bean casserole is a hit in my household, and we have it much more often than once a year. It’s easy to make and doesn’t require a bunch of complicated ingredients.

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