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All about “Marsh bean”

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Health profile

The marsh bean , better known as the gourgane , is a legume that enjoys great popularity in certain regions of Quebec such as Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. It is said to be one of the oldest cultures in the world. Its richness in proteins, carbohydrates (mainly starch) and fibers as well as its low fat content make it a particularly interesting food for health.

Active ingredients and properties

Some studies have associated regular consumption of legumes with various health benefits such as better diabetes control 1 , lower risk of cardiovascular disease , 3 and lower risk of colorectal cancer 4 . These benefits would be partly attributable to various compounds present in legumes such as dietary fiber. American food recommendations suggest eating pulses at least a few times a week 5. Finally, among the major recommendations of the American Institute for Cancer Research for the prevention of cancer, we advise the population to favor a diet composed mainly of plant foods by including a variety of vegetables and fruits, legumes and minimally processed cereal products 6 .

Dietary fiber . Legumes are all good sources of fiber. Dietary fiber, which is found only in plant products, are substances that are not digested by the body. From 11% to 15% of the fibers contained in marsh bean are in soluble form , the rest of the fibers being insoluble 7 . Remember that a diet rich in soluble fiber can help normalize blood cholesterol, glucose and insulin levels, while a diet rich in insoluble fiber helps maintain proper bowel function 8. Note that it is recommended to consume 25 g of fiber per day for women from 19 to 50 years old, and 38 g per day for men of the same age group 9 .

Proteins and antioxidant effect . Marsh bean contains a particular protein which is said to have antioxidant properties . To reach this conclusion, researchers isolated a water-soluble protein (soluble in water) from swamp bean and put it in contact with cultured cells 10 . In this in vitro model, the protein has inter alia induced an increase in the activity of an enzyme which makes it possible to reduce the negative effects of oxidationon cells, a phenomenon linked to the aging process. We know that cooking the bean can affect the quality of the protein, but this effect has unfortunately not been evaluated. These preliminary results, although very interesting, do not allow us to affirm that the protein of the marsh bean has an antioxidant potential in humans. More studies are needed to confirm the data obtained in vitro.

Proteins and effect on blood lipids . Like bean, soybeans could improve the blood lipid profile. At least that’s what the results of some published studies on the subject seem to demonstrate. To date, the cholesterol-lowering effect has been more documented in animals. In rats, a study has shown that adding swamp bean to a cholesterol-elevating diet (a diet high in saturated fat) lowers blood cholesterol after only two weeks of diet 11. Other authors have also reported a decrease in cholesterol levels in rats consuming a high cholesterol-lowering diet (promoting elevation of cholesterol) containing either swamp beans or the protein isolated from these beans. HDL-cholesterol ( “good”) cholesterol levels remained unchanged, but the addition of broad bean in the diet resulted in lower blood triglyceride levels, that has not made a single protein 12 .

The cholesterol-lowering effects of marsh bean could be partly explained by the amino acid profile of its protein. This hypothesis has been advanced for other types of legumes. Compounds, such as the fiber found in the whole bean, could also play a role in lowering cholesterol 12 . Marsh bean contains dietary fiber while the protein isolate from this bean does not contain it. The whole bean had a more marked effect on lowering blood cholesterol than protein alone.

Once again, controlled clinical studies will have to be carried out in humans before being able to assert that marsh bean lowers blood cholesterol. However, since there are several advantages to recommending the consumption of legumes, including a reduction in cardiovascular risk, marsh bean therefore has a place of choice in the diet of people with high cholesterol.

Parkinson’s disease . Several people with Parkinson’s and with motor problems have reported an improvement in their symptoms after eating marsh beans 13-15 . Marsh bean contains levodopa (L – DOPA) , a substance used as a drug in the symptomatic treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In one study, consuming 250 g of cooked swamp bean given as a test meal to people with Parkinson’s disease brought the same benefits in terms of improved motor performance as given L – DOPA in combination with another medicine, carbidopa 15. Consumption of marsh bean would prolong the “on” period of the disease and decrease the “off” period 13 . The “on” period is the time when the medication acts on the person, while the “off” period results in the time when the medication is no longer effective. Marsh bean may be a complementary source of levodopa in patients with Parkinson’s disease, especially those with mild to moderate motor problems. However, as the concentration of levodopa differs from one variety of bean to another and depending on the mode of preparation 16 , consumption of marsh bean cannot replace traditional drug treatment 15 .

Other properties

Is swamp bean antioxidant? Data not available.
Is swamp bean acidifying? Data not available.
Does swamp bean have a high glycemic load? A little. The glycemic load of 92 g of marsh beans is 10.

Most important nutrients

See the meaning of the nutrient source classification symbols

Iron . Fresh, boiled and drained marsh bean is a good source of iron for men and a source for women , their needs being different. The fresh and raw marsh bean is a source . Each body cell contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses).

 Phosphorus . Marsh bean is a source of phosphorus (see our Phosphorus nutrient ranking sheet ). Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. It plays an essential role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. In addition, it participates among other things in the growth and regeneration of tissues and helps to maintain normal blood pH . Finally, phosphorus is one of the constituents of cell membranes.

Magnesium . Marsh bean is a source of magnesium. Magnesium participates in bone development, protein construction, enzymatic actions, muscle contraction, dental health and the functioning of the immune system. It also plays a role in energy metabolism and in the transmission of nerve impulses.

 Zinc . Fresh, boiled and drained marsh bean is a source of zinc for women, but not for men, as their needs are different. Zinc is involved in particular in immune reactions, in the production of genetic material, in the perception of taste, in the healing of wounds and in the development of the fetus. It also interacts with sex and thyroid hormones. In the pancreas, it participates in the synthesis (production), the storage and the release of insulin.

 Manganese . Marsh bean is a source of manganese. Manganese acts as a cofactor for several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also participates in the prevention of damage caused by free radicals .

 Copper . Fresh, boiled and drained marsh bean is a source of copper. As a constituent of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (protein used for the structure and repair of tissues) in the body. Several copper-containing enzymes also help the body’s defense against free radicals.

 Vitamin B1 . Marsh bean is a source of vitamin B1. Also called thiamine, vitamin B1 is part of a coenzyme necessary for the production of energy mainly from the carbohydrates that we eat. It also participates in the transmission of nerve impulses and promotes normal growth.

Vitamin B2 . Fresh, boiled and drained marsh bean is a source of vitamin B2. Fresh and raw marsh bean is a source for women only. Vitamin B2 is also known as riboflavin. Like vitamin B1, it plays a role in the energy metabolism of all cells. In addition, it contributes to tissue growth and repair, hormone production and the formation of red blood cells.

Vitamin B3 . Marsh bean is a source of vitamin B3. Also called niacin, this vitamin participates in many metabolic reactions and contributes particularly to the production of energy from the carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and alcohol that we ingest. It also participates in the DNA formation process , allowing normal growth and development.

Folate . Marsh bean is a source of folate. Folate (vitamin B9) is involved in the production of all cells in the body, including red blood cells. This vitamin plays an essential role in the production of genetic material (DNA, RNA), in the functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, as well as in the healing of wounds and wounds. As it is necessary for the production of new cells, adequate consumption is essential during periods of growth and for the development of the fetus.

Vitamin C . Marsh bean is a source of vitamin C. The role that vitamin C plays in the body goes beyond its antioxidant properties; it also contributes to the health of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums. In addition, it protects against infections, promotes the absorption of iron from plants and accelerates healing.

What is a “portion” of marsh beans worth?
Weight / volume Fresh and raw marsh beans, 58 g / 125 ml Fresh swamp beans, boiled and drained, 92 g / 125 ml
Calories 41 57
Protein 3.2g 4.4g
Carbohydrates 6.7g 9.3 g
Fat 0.4 g 0.5 g
Dietary fiber 2.4g 3.3g

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File, 2005.

Protein complementarity: not that complicated!

Unlike animal proteins, legumes usually have a low content of methionine (an essential amino acid in the body), which makes their proteins incomplete. However, for people who eat little or no animal protein, it is possible to combine legumes with grain products or nuts, which then provides complete proteins (which contain all the essential amino acids). In adults, it is not necessary to seek this complementarity within the same meal, since the fact of obtaining it in the same day is usually sufficient 18 . On the other hand, in children, adolescents and pregnant women, it is preferable to achieve protein complementarity in the same meal.


Marsh bean and favism .

People with favism, a form of hemolytic anemia, should avoid consuming swamp beans since this type of anemia is triggered by the absorption of beans or the inhalation of pollen from the plant. Favism is linked to a congenital deficiency in an enzyme found in red blood cells, glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase erythrocyte. Deficiency of this enzyme causes premature destruction of red blood cells and, subsequently, hemolytic anemia. Note that only men can be affected by this deficiency. However, women can carry the anomaly and pass it on to their children..

Marsh bean over time

The term ”  bean  “, which comes from the Latin faba , appeared in the French language in 1265. In Europe, “bean” also designates a porcelain or plastic figurine which replaced the real bean that was once hidden in the galette des Rois .

Presented as a Quebecism, the term ”  gourgane  ” appears for the first time in the 2004 edition of Petit Larousse . But, the word would rather be of French origin, if one judges by the nickname “gourganiers” which formerly designated the inhabitants of a commune of Brittany, whose food consisted essentially of bean of the marshes.

In Quebec, a species with smaller seeds, the faba bean, was called “  coffee bean  ” because it served as a substitute for this drink.

Note that the term “bean” only applies to plants of the genus Vicia . It is therefore incorrect to name beans and cowpeas “beans”.

Pythagoras and mysticism
Pythagoras, famous philosopher and mathematician of Antiquity, prohibited his disciples from consuming beans, because they were supposed to contain the soul of the dead. He had borrowed this belief from the Egyptians, for whom crossing a field of beans was taboo. Legend has it that Pythagoras was murdered by pursuers, after finding himself in front of a field of beans that he refused to cross.

Because of its size and the nutritional value of the starch it contains, the bean was one of the first foods to be harvested in large quantities, with the aim of building up reserves in the event of a shortage. Even in the wild, as it was collected tens of thousands of years ago in its place of origin in Central Asia, it was the size of the little finger nail, which is quite exceptional. Its domestication, at least 10,000 years old, took place before that of the pea, however very old. We never found his wild parents, whose species could be extinct.

The bean has widely spread to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. However, until Roman times, many religious taboos were attached to it, particularly in Egypt and Greece, although it was widely cultivated and consumed in these two countries.

The Romans held her in great esteem. Pliny the Elder places it first among vegetables. In times of scarcity, it was made into a sort of oatmeal, a habit which has been maintained for centuries in Europe. On 1 st  June each year, the Romans celebrated the Calendae fabariae , party during which the beans and bacon were offered in honor of the goddess Cama, which is invoked when we wanted to give strength and vigor to the organs vital. In his De Re Conquinaria (one of the oldest cookbooks), Apicius mentions many dishes made with beans: shelled, cooked in their pods, boiled, fried.

Pythagoras and the disease
Modern researchers offer another explanation for the repulsion of Pythagoras for beans. He would have suffered from favism . Rare in America, this disease is more common in the Mediterranean people.

In France, it remained popular throughout the Middle Ages. It was particularly appreciated at the start of the season when it was very green and very fresh. It was prepared by sautéing it with onions, saffron and a piece of herring or porpoise.

But, the bean is not easy to digest, so that, in his encyclopedia, written in 1775, Diderot recommends it only to young and robust people who do not fear physical exercise, delicate natures before refrain from it.

The bean is now cultivated in many countries of the world and especially in China, a country which supplies two thirds of world production. It plays an important role in feeding Africans, Asians, the peoples of the Middle East and certain European countries. Introduced into the New World by the Spanish, it will never be very popular there, for lack of a climate compatible with its culture, except in the Andean countries of Latin America and in some regions of the United States. In Quebec, it is grown mainly in Charlevoix and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. In the latter region, it has become, along with the “cipaille” and blueberry pie, a staple of local gastronomy.

Culinary uses

Choose well

The pods of fresh beans must be very green, firm and without spots. They are found at the market in early summer. The beans of the dry beans should be hard, slightly wrinkled and clearly broken. Beware of overly bright beans; they may have been switched to glycerin to hide the fact that they are very old.

In addition to the large marsh bean, sold fresh, dry or frozen, there are commercially available smaller grain varieties, mostly canned, as well as bean flour.


The bean of kings
In Rome, during the Saturnalia, a feast which took place during the winter solstice, a king was elected by means of a bean hidden in a large round and golden cake, symbol of the sun. For seven days, all freedoms were allowed, which led to such overflows, that the party was long prohibited. The Catholic Church will eventually recover the cake and the bean for the Epiphany, in honor of the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem.

Fresh beans: shell them only when cooking. Before cooking the grains, they must be “stolen”, that is to say, get rid of the white film that covers them. To make it easier, first whiten them for a few minutes in salted water and then soak them in ice water: the film should rise to the surface of the water. Then boil them for 10 to 20 minutes, in a large amount of salt water, or steam them.

Small tender beans (one or two centimeters long) are eaten raw, salt-crunched with a slice of salted butter. You can also eat them as a vinaigrette. Balsamic vinegar is particularly suitable for them. Avoid eating raw larger beans, which have some toxicity.

Dry beans: soak them overnight, then, depending on their size, cook them for 30 to 90 minutes in boiling water.

Do not hesitate to add savory during cooking, as it improves the digestibility of the bean.

Culinary dishes

  • Simply serve the beans with butter and fresh parsley or drizzle with olive oil and a few drops of lemon and garnish with chopped chervil.
  • Stew: sauté baby carrots and turnips, baby potatoes and green onions in oil, cook for a few minutes, add beans, peas and asparagus, a little dry white wine, salt, pepper, thyme, parsley and mint, and cook until the vegetables are tender.
  • Dip for raw vegetables, or spread  : move to the mixer cooked beans, tofu, garlic, lemon juice, soy sauce, onion income in a little oil, and sage leaves.
  • Peasant style  : cook fresh shelled beans with lettuce, onion, smoked bacon, olive oil, salt, pepper, nutmeg and savory. Cook 40 minutes, add chopped basil to taste. Serve with roasted or grilled meat.
  • In Quebec, gourgan soup is made with fresh beans, barley, carrots, turnips, onion, lean salted bacon, chicken broth, and salted herbs.
  • In Périgord, it is prepared with fresh or dry beans, new onions, garlic, parsley and the skin of a duck . Cook for two hours then add stale bread to the soup tureen. The tradition requires that one makes chabrol at the end of the meal, that is to say that one “rinses” his bowl with a little wine which one swallows then.

  • Throughout the Middle East, the bean dish with mutton is a classic. The beans and diced mutton are first cooked in oil for about ten minutes. Then, we stack together a hot pepper, red pepper, cumin and garlic with a little water. We add this preparation to the bean and mutton mixture, simmer and serve with a drizzle of lemon juice.
  • In Egypt, Algeria and Lebanon, the small bean is used to prepare Foul Medammas . Melt butter, add a pinch of cumin and water, and bring to a boil. Add fresh (or canned) beans, lemon juice, onion and finely chopped garlic, and sauté over low heat. Season with salt and pepper and add fresh parsley. Serve hot, with hard-boiled eggs if desired. You can make it a kind of sandwich with lettuce leaves and tomatoes.
  • In Azerbaijan, we make it a pilaf . The beans are cooked in water with lemon and butter, and the rice apart in water. Then, we sauté together rice and beans in olive oil.
  • In Algeria and Tunisia, beans are served on couscous .
  • In Syria, it is an appetizer  : sauté garlic, add fresh beans and cook for ten minutes. Add lemon juice, salt, chopped cilantro, olive oil and hot water and cook until the beans are tender. This dish is served cold.
  • You can make falafel , just like with chickpeas.
  • In Spain, it is made into a sort of cassoulet garnished with blood sausage, chorizo, pork pallet and white cabbage.
  • Bean flour can be added in small quantities to wheat or rye flour for making bread. Or mix it in equal parts with the flour of your choice and make pancakes.


Refrigerator: the green pods will keep for a few days in damp paper.

Freezer: shell the fresh beans, blanch them in boiling water, cool them in ice water and wring them well before putting them in the freezer.

Dried grains keep for a year in a sealed container.

Organic gardening

Buy your seeds from a reliable supplier, as the risk of disease transmission by seed is high. Marsh bean is sown very early in the spring, as soon as the soil is thawed, and no later than May 10 (in Quebec). Any delay in sowing results in a significant drop in production, flowering being significantly slowed when temperatures are high. Inoculate the roots with the appropriate bacteria.

The bean prefers rich soils, but tolerates acid soils.

Spacing: 15 cm in all directions for growing in beds; 60 cm between the rows. Plumb the soil and ensure that it remains moist during the germination period (about 20 days).

The plant needs water throughout its growth cycle, except at the end, when the seeds are ripening. Irrigate in case of drought. Practice a four-year rotation to reduce the risk of disease. On the other hand, there is little to fear from insects, which are rare and whose damage is minor.

Ecology and environment

Like other legumes, marsh bean has the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. It can thus replace chemical fertilizers on organic farms. In addition, unlike the majority of other legumes, it provides a very large amount of organic matter, which makes it a plant of choice for making household compost.

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