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Vicia faba (Broad Bean, Faba Bean, Horse Bean, Tic Bean)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Rosids > Eurosid I > Fabales > Family: Fabaceae > Subfamily: Papilionoideae > Genus: Vicia

Vicia faba (Broad Bean, Faba Bean, Horse Bean, Tic Bean)
Vicia faba (Broad Bean, Faba Bean, Horse Bean, Tic Bean)

Vicia faba, Vienna Botanical Gardens, Austrtia. [photos H.G. Robertson, Iziko ]

Bean seeds and very young pods are eaten as a vegetable. Seeds have a high protein content of about 20-25%. Broad Bean was probably domesticated in the eastern Mediterranean region in the late Neolithic (about 6800- 4500 BC) but precise evidence is lacking and in addition we have no idea of the wild plant species from which it was derived. 

No one has yet discovered the wild species from which Vicia faba is derived. All the species of Vicia discovered that are in the same group as Vicia faba (section Faba of the genus Vicia), have a diploid chromosome number (2n) of 14 whereas Vicia faba has 12 chromosomes and cannot be crossed with known wild species. This means that either the wild species has not yet been discovered or that it has gone extinct.

Domestication of Broad Bean probably occurred in the eastern Mediterranean region but exactly when and where remains a mystery. Remains of seeds have been found in an archaeological excavation near Nazareth in north Israel dating to 6800-6500 BC but these are small and could have been from wild plants. No other Neolithic farming village excavations (i.e. farming villages in the near East dating back further than about 4500 BC) have revealed further remains. Numerous remains of Vicia faba suddently start appearing in archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean basin and central Europe dating to the 3rd millenium BC. 

Present day varieties of Broan Bean can be divided into four main groups (Phillips & Rix 1993):

  • Broad Bean (var. faba or major). Eaten as a vegetable. Grouped into varieties with long pods (up to 8 seeds per pod) and those with short pods ('Windsor') which have about 4 seeds per pod.

  • Horse Bean (var. equina). Grown for animal feed.

  • Tic Bean (var. minor); and

  • var. paucijuga. Similar to Tic Bean and grown in Central Asia. Unlike other varieties, it is mainly self-pollinating.

The Broad Bean plant has the advantage of being frost-tolerant so that in Europe it is possible to successfully sow seed in Autumn yielding plants that are harvested in early summer.

Besides being able to eat the cooked bean seeds, the very young pods can be eaten whole. Broad Beans are the principal protein source for poor people in some Asian and Mediterranean countries such as Egypt. Broad Bean seeds are usually stored dried and are cooked by soaking them in water overnight and then cooking them for about 1.5 hours (or 40 minutes in pressure cooker). Fresh bean seeds need only be boiled for 10-15 minutes (Brown 1991) although some people prefer to cook them longer to make them softer (loose more vitamins and minerals in the process). The protein content of bean seeds is high, amounting to about 20-25%.


  • Brown, S. (Ed.) 1991. DK Pocket Encyclopedia - Vegetarian Cookery. Dorling Kindersley, London.

  • Phillips, R. & Rix, M. 1993. Vegetables. Pan Books, London.

  • Zohary, D. & Hopf, M. 1993. Domestication of plants in the old World - The origin and spread of cultivated plants in West Asia, Europe, and the Nile Valley. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Text by Hamish Robertson