Monday, August 30, 2010

Black-eyed Peas - The Bean, Not The Group

Beans, fresh or dried, are one of the cornerstones of Brazilian nutrition. Consequently, they are also fundamental in Brazilian traditional gastronomy. They are the most important source of protein for the poorer strata of society - those who cannot afford to regularly consume animal protein. Without the proteins provided by beans, the good nutritiion of millions of Brazilians would be at risk.

In earlier posts on Flavors of Brazil, you can find discussions of some of the most common species of beans consumed in Brazil, such as the feijão carioca (Carioca bean) and the feijão preto (Black bean). Besides these two, there are many other varieties of beans in the Brazilian bean-pot. Which bean is most likely to make its way to your table depends on your economic level, your geographical location, and often, your racial background.

One bean is particularly associated with all aspects of Afro-Brazilian culture; understandably so, since this particular bean, unlike most beans, originated not in the Americas but rather in tropical Africa. It probably arrived in Brazil on board slave ships bringing African slaves to Portugal's South American colonies - current-day Brazil. It's scientific name is vigna unguiculata, and in English it's most commonly called "Black-eyed pea." It is the most commonly consumed bean in large parts of Brazil, particularly in the state of Bahia, where the cultural influence of Africa is most strongly felt in Brazil, and in the traditionally-poor regions of Brazil's northeast, where this bean will grow in the infertile soils and harsh semi-arid climatic conditions which prevail locally.

One of the many fascinating things about the black-eyed pea is the huge number of common names it carries in the Portuguese of Brazil. In English there are only a few names for  vigna unguiculata - black-eyed pea, black-eyed bean, cowpea or lobia. But there is a rich range of names attached to vigna unguiculata in Brazil. Some are quaint, some humorous, but all are regional. Here are just a few:

boca-preta (black mouth)
ervilha-de-vaca (cow pea)
favalinha (little fava bean)
feijão-alfanje (scimitar bean)
feijão-careta (straight bean)
feijão-chícharo (chickpea bean)
feijão-chicote (whip bean)
feijão-chinês (Chinese bean)
feijão-congo (Congo bean)
feijão-corda (string bean)
feijão-de-boi (ox bean)
feijão-de-frade (monk's bean)
feijão-de-olho-preto (black-eyed bean)
feijão-de-vara (pole bean)
feijão-fradinho (little monk bean)
feijão-galego (Galician bean)
feijão-lagartixa (lizard bean)
feijão-mineiro (miner's bean, bean from Minas Gerais)
feijão-miúdo (tiny bean)
feijão-miúdo-da-China (tiny Chinese bean)
feijão-vinha (vineyard bean)
feijão-verde (green bean)

In the next few posts on Flavors of Brazil, I'll cover this bean in more detail, concentrating on its use in the traditional gastronomy of Bahia and of Brazil's northeast.


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