All About Shelling Beans

Guide to Shelling Beans

Shelling beans (a.k.a. soup beans), as opposed to pole beans like green beans and wax beans, can be dried and stored for later use. Fresh shelling beans, however, are one of the great treats of local eating. Shell them and cook them in soups or simply braised as a side dish—they have an extra creamy texture and wonderful clean but earthy flavor.

  • 01 of 06

    What Are Shelling Beans?

    Cranberry Beans. Photo © Molly Watson

    Shelling beans come in pods, much like the more commonly available pole beans. Their pods are thicker and drier, however, since the beans inside tend to be quite a bit bigger. Cranberry beans, pictured here and so named for their brilliant scarlet pods (the beans cook up a dull brown color), are the most commonly available shelling beans.

    Shelling beans can be shelled, dried, and stored for later use or shelled and cooked fresh for a truly seasonal treat. Technically, fava beans are shelling beans since they can be grown to maturity, shelled, and dried.

  • 02 of 06

    Shelling Bean Season

    Lima Beans in Their Pods
    Fresh Butter Beans. Diana Miller/Getty Images

    Fresh shelling beans, like the Italian butter beans (a.k.a. lima beans) pictured here, are in season and available anytime from July in warmer climates into September or October in colder areas.

  • 03 of 06

    How to Chose Shelling Beans

    Shelling Bean In Their Pods
    Cranberry Beans. Patrizia Savarese/Getty Images

    Shelling beans, unlike most produce, should be just a bit dried out when you buy them. Too green and too fresh and the beans inside aren't mature enough. Look for pods that while starting to dry a bit look freshly picked with a fresh and green stem end. As with most produce, chose shelling beans that feel heavy for their size.

    In short: Bumpy pods with plump, fat beans inside are the ones to chose.

  • 04 of 06

    How to Shell Shelling Beans

    Shelling Beans In Their Pods
    Purple Royal Burgundy Beans. LazingBee/Getty Images

    Shelling beans should, as their name implies, be very easy to shell. Ripe beans should be plump enough so that the pod pops right open with a light squeeze. You can then "zip" the beans out by running your finger down the inside of the pod. 

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    How to Store Shelling Beans

    Fresh Shelling Beans
    Shelled Cannellini Beans. Poppy Barach/Getty Images

    Store unshelled shelling beans in a paper bag or loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge until ready to shell.

    Store the shelled beans covered and chilled for up to three days before using.

    Note that shelled fresh shelling beans freeze beautifully. Lay shelled beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until frozen through. Transfer to a sealable plastic bag and freeze up to six months.

  • 06 of 06

    How to Use Shelling Beans

    Soupy Beans
    Braised Shelling Beans. Claudia Totir/Getty Images

    Shelling beans are great in soups and stews. Unlike their dried counterparts, there is no need to soak them before using. Most fresh shelling beans require 20 to 30 minutes to cook, so add them to recipes accordingly. Fresh shelling beans are also delicious braised.