Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis is a legume cultivated to be eaten as green pods. It is known as the yardlong bean, bora, long-podded cowpea, asparagus bean, pea bean, snake bean, or Chinese long bean. Despite the common name, the pods are actually only about half a yard long; the subspecies name sesquipedalis (one-and-a-half-foot-long) is a rather exact approximation of the pods’ length.
This plant is of a different genus than the common bean. It is a vigorous climbing annual vine. The plant is subtropical/tropical and most widely grown in the warmer parts of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and southern China. A variety of the cowpea, it is grown primarily for its strikingly long (35-75 cm) immature pods and has uses very similar to that of the green bean. The many varieties of yardlong beans are usually distinguished by the different colours of their mature seeds. The plant attracts many pollinators, specifically various types of yellowjackets and ants.
The pods, which can begin to form just 60 days after sowing, hang in groups of two or more. They are best for vegetable use if picked before they reach full maturity; however, overlooked pods can be used like dry beans in soups. When harvesting, it is important not to pick the buds which are above the beans; since the plant will set many more beans on the same stem. The plants take longer to reach maturity than bush beans, but once producing, the beans are quick-growing and daily checking/harvesting is often a necessity. The plants will produce beans until frost.
The crisp, tender pods are eaten both fresh and cooked. They are at their best when young and slender. They are sometimes cut into short sections for cooking uses. As a West Indian dish, they are often stir-fried with potatoes and shrimp. They are also used in stir-fries in Chinese cuisine and in Kerala cuisine. In Malaysian cuisine, they are often stir-fried with chillies and shrimp paste (belacan) or used in cooked salads (kerabu). Another popular option is to chop them into very short sections and fry them in an omelette. In Suriname cuisine they are called kousenband and served with Roti.
Availability and Substitutes
- Look for snake beans at supermarkets and Asian grocery stores.
- Substitute with green beans (smaller and sweeter)
They are a good source of protein, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, iron, phosphorus, and potassium, and a very good source for vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and manganese.
A serving of 100 grams of yardlong beans contains 47 calories, 0 g of total fat, 4 mg sodium (0% daily value), 8 g of total carbohydrates (2% daily value), and 3 g of protein (5% daily value).