Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: broad bean from The Macquarie Dictionary

an erect annual herb, Vicia faba, of the family Fabaceae, often cultivated for its large edible seeds; faba bean; fava bean.

Plural: broad beans

Summary Article: Broad bean
from The Encyclopedia of Seeds: Science, Technology and Uses
1. Worldwide importance and distribution

Broad bean or fava (faba) bean (also known as horse bean, field bean, tick bean or Windsor bean) (Vicia faba L.) is a cool-season legume popular in the Middle East, Europe, China and in the highlands of South America. Production is concentrated in nine major agroecological regions namely the Mediterranean, the Nile valley, Ethiopia, Central Asia, East Asia, Oceania, northern Europe, Latin America and North America. (See: Legumes; Crop Atlas Appendix, Map 3)

2. Origin

The origin of these beans is unclear but the best information places it in the Mediterranean area and Central Asia. There is some genetic and archaeological evidence for the co-cultivation of broad bean with the early wheats, emmer and einkorn, in the Near East. The earliest remains are from about 8500 years ago (Neolithic period) and there are widespread remains in the Mediterranean and central Europe dating from about 5000 years ago: it was a popular food in ancient civilizations (Egyptian, Greek, Roman). It is thought to have been introduced into China about 2000 years ago. The wild progenitor and the exact biological origin remain unknown.

3. Seed types

The varieties can be divided into four main groups based on seed size (Table B.9).

Seeds are variable in size and shape, but usually are nearly round, and coloured white, green, brown, purple, black or buff (Colour Plate 1C, D).

About 30% in a population of fava beans are cross-fertilizing, the main insect pollinators being bumblebees. Subspecies paucijuga, mainly grown in Central Asia, is mostly self-pollinating.

Table B.9. Vicia faba types.

Common name


Seed characteristics


Beck, tick or pigeon bean

Vicia faba var. minor

Small, rounded (1 cm long)


Horse bean

V. faba var. equina

Medium sized (1.5 cm)


Broad bean

V. faba var. major

Large broad flat (2.5 cm)




8 seeds/pod


Windsor bean

V. faba var. major

Large broad flat (2.5 cm)




4 seeds/pod


V. faba var. paucijuga

Small, rounded (1 cm long)


4. Nutritional quality

The protein content is relatively high, in the range 20-40% fresh weight (fw). Legumin (predominantly) and vicilin are the globulins present (see: Storage protein). Except for tryptophan and methionine, the contents of the essential amino acids are relatively high, especially lysine, whose concentration is twice as high as that in cereal grains. Total carbohydrate, most of which is starch, can reach as much as 60% fw; sucrose is also present together with approx. 5% fw of the flatulogenic, raffinose-series oligosaccharides, mainly stachyose and verbascose (sometimes considered as antinutritionals). Oil (triacylglycerol) is approx. 1.3% fw, fibre 6.8% and minerals 3% (Ca, Fe, P, Na and K). The vitamin content is higher that that of rice and wheat. The B complex and ascorbic acid predominate.

The beans contain several antinutritional factors. The protease (e.g. trypsin) inhibitors are, however, at much lower concentration than in, for example, soybean (see: Protease inhibitors). Where these beans are eaten regularly as a major component of the diet, a paralytic condition known as favism can occur. (Even inhalation of pollen may incite this severe haemolytic anaemia in susceptible individuals.) This disease develops only in humans that have a congenital deficiency of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in the red blood cells and is induced by the alkaloidal glycosides, vicine and convicine and their hydrolytic derivatives divicine and isouramil in the alimentary canal (see: Pharmaceuticals and pharmacologically active compounds). The concentration of haemagglutinins (lectins) (see: Phytohaemagglutinin) is higher in fava bean than in other legumes. These substances are destroyed by heat during food preparation. Other detrimental factors include cyanogens, phytin and tannins.

5. Uses

To be used as a vegetable, beans are picked green, when they have reached full size, but before the pods dry. They are also used as a dry bean for food and livestock feed. In India and in the Andean regions of Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, broad beans are eaten roasted. Fava bean is one of the most important winter crops for human consumption in the Middle East, Mediterranean region, China and Ethiopia, where it is a common breakfast food. The V. faba var. minor is the beck, tick or pigeon bean, much consumed as food in the Arabic world. The V. faba var. equina is mainly used for animal forage, especially for horses. The V. faba var. major also known as broad bean, Windsor or straight bean is mostly used for human consumption. The Indian varieties of the V. faba var. paucijuga are generally dried and eaten as pulses. The straw from bean plants is also used for brick making and as a fuel in parts of Sudan and Ethiopia.

6. World production

In 2002 the worldwide production of green and dried beans was about 5.3 million t, dry beans accounting for about 80%. The major producer was China followed by Algeria, Morocco, Egypt and Ethiopia. The export trade in dry and green beans in that year was valued at approx. US$164 million. The major exporters were Australia, China, France, Mexico, Spain and the UK (FAOSTAT).

  • Dawkins, T.C.K., Heath, M.C. and Lockwood, G. (eds) (1984) Vicia faba: agronomy, physiology and breeding. In: World Crops, Production, Utilization and Description, Vol. 10. Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, The Netherlands.
  • Filippetti, A. and Ricciardi, L. (1993) Faba bean, Vicia faba L. In: Kalloo, G. and Bergh, B.O. (eds) Genetic Improvement of Vegetable Crops. Pergamon Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 353-385.
  • Hebblethwaite, P.D. (1983) Faba Bean (Vicia faba L.). Butterworth-Heinemann, London, UK.
  • Muehlbauer, F.J. and Kaiser, W.J. (eds) (1994) Expanding the Production and Use of Cool-season Food Legumes. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
  • Summerfield, R.J. (ed.) (1988) World Crops: Cool Season Food Legumes. A Global Perspective of the Problems and Prospects for Crop Improvement in Pea, Lentil, Faba bean and Chickpea. Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.
  • Voysest-Voysest, Oswaldo
    © CAB International 2006.

    Related Articles

    Full text Article broad bean
    Dictionary of Food: International Food and Cooking Terms from A to Z

    The seed of a legume, Vicia faba , eaten as the whole pod when very young (up to 8 cm) or as green unripe oval-shaped beans from more mature...

    Full text Article broad bean
    The Macmillan Encyclopedia

    A stiff upright annual plant, Vicia faba , 60-150 cm tall, with a ribbed stem and compound grey-green leaves composed of a few large...

    Full text Article broad bean
    The Penguin English Dictionary

    noun 1 a large flat seed of a leguminous plant, used as a vegetable. 2 a Eurasian leguminous plant widely cultivated for its...

    See more from Credo