Shelling Beans

Guide to Shelling Beans

Shelling beans, also known as soup beans, can be dried and stored for later use, unlike pole beans like green beans or wax beans. Fresh shelling beans, however, are a wonderful treat, don't need to be soaked overnight, and can be cooked in just minutes. Fresh shelling beans, like Italian butter beans, known as lima beans, are in season and available anytime from July in warmer climates into September or October in colder areas.

Shell them and cook them in vegetable and grains soups, braise them as a side dish to chicken, beef, or pork, or use them as a vegan or vegetarian main with a side of rice and slices of avocado.

  • 01 of 05

    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 since the beans inside tend to be quite a bit bigger, and the outside texture is drier than other shells. Cranberry beans are named for their bright scarlet pods and are the most commonly available shelling beans. When cooked, they turn to a dull brown color, but with a delicious earthy flavor. Fava beans are shelling beans since they can be grown to maturity, shelled, and dried.

  • 02 of 05

    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 means that the beans inside aren't mature enough. Look for pods that are starting to dry a bit but look freshly picked thanks to their green stem end. As with most produce, chose shelling beans that feel heavy for their size, avoid shells with browning, or anything that feels too soft. Go for the bumpy pods with plump, fat beans inside.

  • 03 of 05

    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 out the beans by running your finger down the inside of the pod. 

  • 04 of 05

    How to Store Shelling Beans

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

    Store unshelled shelling beans in a paper bag or wrap them loosely in plastic; keep them in the fridge until ready to shell. Shelled beans must be kept covered and chilled and keep for up to three days before using. But the faster you use them, the better the texture and flavor.

    Shelled fresh shelling beans freeze beautifully. Lay shelled beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze, then transfer to a sealable plastic bag and freeze for up to six months.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    How to Use Shelling Beans

    Soupy Beans
    Braised Shelling Beans. Claudia Totir/Getty Images

    Shelling beans are great in vegetarian soups and stews but also combined with chicken and beef and grains like quinoa, farro, or bulgur. Boil them in salted water with fresh herbs, let them cool off, and make a salad using any seasonal fresh vegetable.

    Unlike their dried counterparts, shelling beans don't need a soak before using. Most fresh shelling beans require from 20 to 30 minutes to cook, so add them to recipes accordingly to avoid overcooked and mushy beans. Fresh shelling beans are also delicious braised and seasoned with fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil.