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String Beans vs. Green Beans (A 50+ Year Gardener Tells All)

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It is common for folks to wonder how string beans, snap beans, and green beans are different. The purpose of this article is to unravel the mystery of how to use and even grow them. We will get to the bottom of the matter once and for all. Can a country girl solve this controversy? You bet!

The differences in terminology between green, string, and snap beans come from different parts of the country and from how different people process or prepare the beans for cooking. They are actually all the same vegetable of the Genus Phaseolus vulgaris, or common bean, and are members of the legume family.

While there are many different varieties of green beans, they grow in only two ways, on bushes or on vines. It is simply a matter of things being called by different names in different parts of the country. It is like coca-cola being called soda, coke, or pop in various parts of the country.

How Do Green Beans Grow?

Fresh green beans picked and put in a wicker basket

Green beans are easy to grow, and there are two overall main types of green beans when categorized by the way they grow: bush or pole.

Bush Beans

Bush beans grow unsupported on plants that are approximately 2 feet tall. They are normally grown in rows, but can also be grown in raised beds because of the compact size of the green bean plants.

Pole or Runner Beans

Pole or runner beans grow on vines that can reach 10 to 15 feet and must be supported by some sort of trellis. They can be supported by a trellis built for that purpose, on a teepee-type support structure, along a fence, and many a farmer plants pole or runner beans alternately in a row with corn, so that the beans run up the corn stalks and utilize the corn stalks for a support system after the corn has been harvested. And, here again, what is known as pole beans in many parts of the country are known elsewhere by such names as Romano beans, flat beans, and Italian green beans.

Green beans are a warm-season crop that should be planted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed and when the soil temperature is at least 55℉. Green beans can be planted in the spring and all the way into early fall in some areas with milder climates, such as the Gulf Coast region of the continental United States. Green bean seeds are normally planted in rows and only take 7 to 8 weeks from planting to harvest. Once blooms appear on the plants, there will be beans ready to pick in about 3 weeks and will continue to produce over a 3-week period. The spring crop will be more bountiful, but the fall crop, while smaller, will be more flavorful.

Green beans are easy to grow and grow well under imperfect conditions. They grow in poor soil and even aid in amending or repairing the soil by adding nitrogen back to the soil. Green beans and peas are known as “soil builders.”

How Are Green Beans Prepared For Cooking?

The primary requirement for preparing green beans for cooking is that the ends must be removed and the “string” that runs down the length of the bean that will open the pod of the bean if you wish to remove the beans from the pods or hulls, and that string must also be removed because it will be tough after cooking in the more mature beans. 

It is a simple process that involves snapping off one end of the bean in such a way as to pull the string down the bean to the other end, where that end is also snapped off. Some people call their preparation process stringing the beans, which you need to do to all the different beans, no matter what variety they are. The folks who call this process stringing the beans naturally call the beans string beans.  However, some people describe that process as snapping the beans, so to those folks, they are known as snap beans.

Once the beans have had the ends and the strings removed, they can then be either cooked whole, snapped, or cut into 1-1&1/2” pieces, or cut lengthwise for French-style green beans.

How Can Green Beans Be Served?

Homemade green bean casserole with fried onions

Green beans can be served in a multitude of ways, including raw, steamed, boiled, stir-fried, baked, broiled, grilled, and as an ingredient in casseroles, soups, and stews.

Raw 

Green beans, at their most nutritious, can be served raw or as part of a fresh garden salad. However, there has been some controversy over whether green beans contain lectins, which serve as a natural insecticide for plants, that can cause stomach distress such as gas and bloating if eaten raw, and according to Healthline, “while eating small amounts of raw green beans may be safe, it’s best to avoid them to prevent any potential toxicity.”

Steamed 

Steaming is an excellent way to cook fresh green beans. Just place the beans into a steaming basket, lower them into a pot or pan of boiling water, cover the pot, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. I like to steam them for 5 minutes and serve them with just a sprinkling of sea salt. Delish!

Boiled 

Green beans are delicious when dropped into a pot of boiling salted water and cooked for 4 to 5 minutes. Test them, and if you like them more tender, boil for a minute or 2 longer. A popular dish in the south involves boiling the first crop of green beans with the first new potatoes and adding a little white sauce to the pot.

Stir-fry 

Green beans are delicious when stir-fried with lots of minced garlic and fresh ginger, but be sure not to overcook them. They will be done in 1 to 2 minutes when they will be crisp-tender.

Baked 

Green beans can be baked or roasted in the oven with just a drizzle of olive oil and a light sprinkling of sea salt.  They will be deliciously served plain or with a dipping sauce.

Broiled 

Green beans can be broiled. Just place them on a cookie sheet or other baking pan with just a drizzle of olive oil and a small sprinkling of sea salt. Then, with just a few minutes under your oven’s broiler, they will be crisp, but tender. Watch them closely as it should only take between 4 and 8 minutes, depending on how close you have the pan to the flame.

Grilled 

Green beans are delicious when grilled directly on the grilling grate until charred but still tender. It should only take 4 to 5 minutes on each side to have perfect grilled green beans.

Casserole

We are all familiar with that special dish called Green Bean Casserole. But, have you ever tried it with fresh green beans? It will give you a whole new taste sensation and will have your method of making green bean casserole changed for life. Just steam or boil fresh green beans for approximately 3 minutes and substitute them for the canned green beans called for in the Green Bean Casserole recipe. You will be glad you tried it.

Soups and Stews

Fresh green beans, as well as other non-traditional soup and stew vegetables like Brussels Sprouts, have long been some of my favorite ingredients for soups and stews of all kinds. Just add them along with the other vegetables for a real treat.

Green beans dried chillies and garlic in a pan on a stove

Are Green Beans Good For You?

Green beans are very high in nutrition, and here are a few examples of the nutritional value in 1 cup of cooked fresh green beans.

Green beans:

  • Are low in calories, only 28 calories per cup as compared to 33 calories per cup of canned green beans.
  • Are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • Contain 4 grams of dietary fiber.
  • Provide 2.4 grams of protein.
  • Are loaded with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B-6, C, E, and K. 
  • Are a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, copper, folate, niacin, and thiamin, and contain some of the phytonutrients like lutein and beta-carotene.

According to MedBroadcast, you should learn to love green beans because …”their powerful combination of fiber, folate, and the minerals magnesium and potassium make green beans a superfood for cardiovascular health.”

What Is The Best Way To Store Green Beans?

Raw

After harvesting green beans, they will begin losing their freshness within 1 to 2 days and will no longer be crisp, so it is important to refrigerate them as soon as possible. If you have too many green beans to fit into your refrigerator, they can be either stored in a cool dark area where the temperature ranges from 45 to 50℉, or if you do not have access to such an area, they can be placed in coolers on ice until they can be refrigerated or processed.

If refrigerated in an airtight container, green beans will stay good for up to 1 week. Be sure they are unwashed, packed loosely, and stored in an area where they will not be contaminated by other foods stored nearby.

The important thing to remember here is that vegetables and fruit age quickly after picking and lose their nutrients at a fast rate. So, if possible, plan your harvest at a time when you can process the beans quickly after picking so that they are either cooked, canned, or frozen within a short time after harvest.

Cooked

Cooked green beans should be refrigerated immediately after cooking and will remain good in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. In the past, it was recommended that vegetables like green beans be completely cooled before refrigerating. But, those recommendations have been amended to refrigerating immediately after they are cooked. Any green beans left after 4 days should be discarded.

Frozen

Green beans that are to be frozen should be processed as soon after picking as possible to maintain the best quality, taste, and color. All vegetables, including green beans, must be blanched to preserve those good qualities. The blanching process destroys the enzymes that cause the vegetables to continue the aging process and provides you with vegetables that have the same quality as they had on the day they were processed. Here are the steps for blanching green beans:

  1. Wash the beans thoroughly and pick through them to remove any foreign matter such as leaves or other parts of the plants.
  2. Trim ends of the green beans and remove the strings.
  3. Either leave the beans whole or cut or snap the beans and prepare them as you would for cooking. This will depend on your preference.
  4. Bring a large pot ¾ full of water to a full rolling boil over high heat on the stovetop.
  5. Drop the green beans into the boiling water and stir to separate.
  6. Once the beans come back to a full rolling boil, begin timing, and boil for 3 minutes.
  7. Once the beans have boiled for 3 minutes, immediately remove them from the boiling water by using a slotted spoon or other utensil and drop them into cool water.
  8. Change the cool water 2 to 3 times to cool down the beans as rapidly as possible.
  9. On the last bowl or container of cool water, add ice to cool down the green beans completely.
  10. Drain the green beans and place them into freezer-safe bags, boxes, or other containers, label the containers, and freeze them immediately.

When freezing, you can use the USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) National Center For Home Food Preservation website as a source for blanching times for various vegetables.

PRO TIP: When freezing multiple boxes or bags of vegetables, do not stack the unfrozen containers all in one stack. They will freeze more quickly and more efficiently if you spread them out in the freezer and then stack them after they have frozen.

Canned

In my opinion, home canning green beans is the best way to go as far as food preservation. The home-canned green beans have a much better flavor than frozen. 

Like most vegetables, green beans are low acid foods and must be pressure canned for long-term storage. Here is the process for home canning green beans:

  1. Select beans that are young and tender.
  2. Wash the beans thoroughly and pick through them to remove any foreign matter such as leaves or other parts of the plants.
  3. Trim ends of the green beans and remove the strings.
  4. Either leave the beans whole or cut or snap the beans and prepare them as you would for cooking. This will depend on your preference.
  5. Prepare and sterilize the jars.
  6. For cold pack: Pack the raw green beans into the sterilized canning jars, add ½ teaspoon of salt to each pint jar or 1 teaspoon of salt for each quart jar. Fill jars with boiling water, leaving a 1-inch headspace.
  7. For hot pack: Put beans into a large pot of boiling water and boil for 5 minutes, drain, and pack hot green beans loosely in sterilized jars, add ½ teaspoon of salt to each pint jar or 1 teaspoon of salt for each quart jar. Fill jars with boiling water, leaving a 1-inch headspace.
  8. Affix hot lids and rings.
  9. Have at least 2&½ to 3 inches of water in the pressure canner.
  10. Load the jars of green beans into the pressure canner.
  11. Make sure the gasket is in good repair and is inserted properly in the canner lid.
  12. Close the lid with heat at its highest setting and allow the pressure to build. When steam starts escaping from the steam vent, set a timer for 10 minutes and allow steam to escape from the vent for the entire 10 minutes.
  13. Affix the petcock onto the steam vent at 10 lbs of pressure.
  14. When the petcock starts to rock or jiggle, reduce the heat slightly without reducing pressure and start timing, which is 20 minutes for green beans in pints, or 25 minutes for quarts.
  15. If at any time during the pressure canning process, the pot loses pressure and the petcock stops rocking or jiggling, bring the heat back up and start the timing process over from the beginning. To safely can the vegetables, they must remain at the designated pressure for the designated amount of time without interruption.
  16. At the end of 20 (or 25) minutes, turn off the heat or remove the canner from the heat source to cool down naturally. Do not try to speed up the cool-down portion of the process.
  17. When the pressure is down, remove the petcock but leave the lid on for 10 minutes.
  18. Remove the lid after 10 minutes.
  19. Remove the jars to a prepared area and allow them to sit undisturbed for 24 hours. After 24 hours wash and dry the jars, check the seals, label, remove the rings, and store in a pantry or other cool, dry area.

If you are new to canning, I recommend that you take a look at the guidelines for home canning on the USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) National Center For Home Food Preservation website. This is my go-to information on all things related to home canning.

Final Thoughts

I think we can safely say that our mystery has been solved, and we can all agree that green beans, snap beans, and string beans are one and the same. It is one of the most nutritious and versatile vegetables that is liked by most because of its mild flavor. 

I highly recommend that you choose fresh green beans whenever possible, and frozen over canned as the canned varieties are loaded with sodium. But, if canned is what you have, just be sure to rinse the beans before using or choose a sodium-free version.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

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