Shake it up a bit with tepary beans

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 17, 2015



We went back to Tucson this past summer and paid our annual visit to Native Seeds. I bought some more tepary beans and talked with the clerk about cooking them. I decided to use a slow cooker and even cooked them 16 hours and these beans still do not disintegrate.

My husband was interested in trying to grow them. Tepary beans, Phaseolus acutifolius, have been grown in the arid Southwest for millennia. They “mature quickly and are tolerant of the low desert heat, drought and alkaline soils.” The cultural instructions suggest planting them “with the summer rains. If the rains are sparse, irrigate when the plants look stressed. Teparies do not tolerate overwatering.”

He decided to plant in July when we start getting less rain which I think might be a problem for early planting here in the rainy spring. He planted Santa Rosa White, an old collection from the Tohono O’odham village of Santa Rosa, Arizona.

They have produced well and we have been picking for the last month. Pods are to be harvested as they dry. The mature pods will pop open and drop seeds if left on the plant. One alternative is to harvest the whole plants when the pods are turning brown and allow them to dry and then thresh and winnow.

In 1912, ethnographer, Caro Lunholtz, found these beans cultivated in the Sonoran desert where the annual rainfall is 3 inches and temperatures run to 118 degrees. This area was the most arid area in the world where rain fed agriculture is practiced. Tepary beans are the most drought tolerant legume. Germination requires wet soil although the plants will flourish in dry conditions thereafter. Too much water inhibits bean production. In 2015 the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Columbia is testing crossbreeds of teparies and common beans in order to impart the tepary’s drought and heat tolerance which could be especially helpful with climate change.

Teparies have a sweet nutty flavor that’s delicious in traditional Sonoran stews and casseroles. The have more protein than common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, and contain higher amounts of calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium and cause less gassiness.

I had a pound of tepary beans and cooked them in the slow cooker for 16 hours. All day and night and they still were firm. What can I say? They are tough little beans! I added onions, a carrot, and some water to cover and some bacon (I did not have a ham hock) which would have been better. They were tasty!

I decided to make a soup out of them and put about 2 cups in a food processor and puree them then added some water and spices (such as pepper, salt, thyme, oregano) then some garlic and pureed all this until the consistency was smooth and creamy. I served this hot with some bread and it was great.

Next I made some hummus! I pureed about 1 ½ cups of the beans with ½ cup of tahnini and salt and pepper. I added some garlic for taste. It was delicious and the hit of the evening. I served with blue corn chips.

You can find many recipes on line for tepary beans. You can produce them in our climate. It is something different for you to try.

The story goes that early explorers asked the Tohono O’odham people what they were planting. They answered “t’pawi,” (It’s a bean.) They go by other names as well. Seeds for tepary can be found at, seeds of, or for the biggest collection go to and decide which of the 33 different tepary beans you might want to try.

Please note that they are best grown on a support like pole beans.