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What Are Heirloom Beans?

heirloom white bean soup

I’ve heard of heirloom tomatoes, but heirloom beans? As someone who tries not to eat too much meat and a family that jumps for beans, I was so excited to learn about heirloom beans.

An heirloom is something that has been passed down for generations through family members.  Some people have jewelry and some people have seeds.  An heirloom plant is a varietal that has not been used in the modern large scale farm production, but rather passed down through family or farm from an earlier period in time.  Steve Sando, founder of Rancho Gordo, defines them as pure seeds, that when planted will produce the same kind of bean every time.   I remember buying a special heirloom variety of popcorn at a local farmers market a few years ago, they said the seeds were passed down in their family for years and it happened to be the best popcorn I have ever had.

lima beans

Steven Sando scours the markets of Mexican and Central America to find many kinds of heirloom beans and bring them back to cultivation in his farm in California.  Although heirloom beans are harder to grow and the yield is smaller, they produce a far superior product.  These beans are fresh -- beans found in a bag at the local supermarket may be up to 10 years old!  Although soaking does reduce cooking time, it is not necessary.  If you are someone that doesn’t really like beans, you have to heirloom beans a try. The depth of flavor from these heirloom beans surpasses anything you’ve ever had.  Gourmet chefs like Thomas Keller (hailed as the best chef in America) swears by them.  There is also huge variety and they all taste different.


Beans in the supermarket are typically under a $1 for a pound and considered a great budget health food.  These beans are $4-$5 per pound, but if you consider them a substitute for meat and other proteins, like I do, they are still a bargain.

rancho beans

My first try with heirloom beans was the Good Mother Stallard beans from Rancho Gordo, recommended for its great pot liquor (or bean broth) it has so much flavor that it can be prepared simply with onions and carrots, Simply Beans.  I served over a plain soft polenta for a full delicious meal.  My second try was their cannellini beans that grew larger than any I have seen.  I made a simple Tuscan Bean Soup that was out of this world.  While I wouldn’t suggest these specialty beans for cholent, they are worth a shot for an easy weekday dinner.

You can purchase Rancho Gordo Beans through their website where they also have more recipes and information on heirbloom beans.  They also say that you can try sticking one of their beans in pot of soil and grown your own heirloom beans.

Other companies selling heirloom beans are as follows: