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What is a Winged Bean?

Alex Tree
By
Updated: Feb 21, 2024

The winged bean, also known as the goa bean, four anchors bean, and asparagus pea, is a climbing vegetable with large, twisting leaves that can reach heights of more than 13 feet (4 m). It is a type of legume related to soybeans that looks like a pole bean. It has white, pink, or pale blue flowers and rectangular, four-sided pods with winged edges. The pods can be red, purple, or green and will usually grow up to 8 inches (about 20 cm). The roots of the winged bean produce carrot-sized tubers with white pulp.

Every part of the winged bean is edible. The pods have a sweet taste similar to green peas. The leaves taste like spinach when cooked. The flowers of the winged pea taste like mushrooms and can be used as food coloring. Its roots produce tubers that taste like nut-flavored, early-season potatoes.

Recipes include stir-fried winged beans, tempura, and salads. If refrigerated and wrapped in plastic, winged beans can last up to three days. They can serve as an alternative to more popular vegetables like asparagus, soybeans, and spinach.

The cultivation of winged beans is straightforward given the right conditions. The plant can be grown in backyard plots, between fields, or over fences. The seeds grow quickly, especially when planted at the start of the wet season. Stakes or supports will allow for more plant growth and multiply yields. Winged beans are largely resistant to weeds and pests and make good cover plants for large plantations.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, farmers and agricultural scientists hailed the winged bean as a wonder crop because of its high concentration of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Almost all parts of the plant have been studied and proven to have abundant nutritional value. It has been dubbed a supermarket on a stalk by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

The exact geographic origin of the winged bean is unknown. Authorities have speculated that it may have come from Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, or India. Most winged beans are now grown in Southeast Asia, particularly in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. Some varieties are grown as far west as India and Bangladesh. The humidity and abundant rainfall in these tropical countries are conducive to winged bean growth.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Alex Tree
By Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and WiseGeek contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.

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Discussion Comments
By Melonlity — On Jan 19, 2015

@Soulfox -- That is something to think about, huh? Why aren't we seeing winged beans all over the blasted planet?

I don't know and I am not qualified enough to even make an accurate guess, but I suspect we might find the answer to your question in the last paragraph of the article. It seems these do well in tropical climates, but who knows how they would do in areas that aren't so humid and don't get incredible amounts of rainfall?

Still, you would think some brainy researcher had figured out how to adapt the winged bean to less hospitable climates by now.

By Soulfox — On Jan 18, 2015

Seeing how people have praised the winged beans for their nutritional value, why aren't we seeing this plant cultivated more for areas where food is scarce and such a plant could feed so many people? If they are easy to grow, you would think the winged bean seed would have been shipped all over the place by now.

Odd that this plant is not all that well known if it is as nutritious as people say.

Alex Tree
Alex Tree
Andrew McDowell is a talented writer and WiseGeek contributor. His unique perspective and ability to communicate complex ideas in an accessible manner make him a valuable asset to the team, as he crafts content that both informs and engages readers.
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